If I wanted to address what is standing in our way and impeding our access to clean water, I would be lost as to where to start. In Lebanon, we suffer from many problems in the water sector. From the discharge of polluted water from our homes and factories to its release into the Mediterranean Sea, we must tackle every step.
Wastewater is directly being discharged into rivers, valleys and directly to the sea at shoreline without proper treatment, as only 8% of the generated wastewater is properly treated in Lebanon. If we move on to discuss the subsequent phase of how this wastewater is being treated, we find that most wastewater treatment plants only provide partial treatment. The problem extends to electricity shortages, obstructing the course of treatment in addition to the high cost of operation and maintenance of the wastewater treatment plant.
Above all these complications, supervision and monitoring responsibilities are on hold, bringing much doubt on how environmental legislation and strategies to solve the water crisis would be implemented without delays, especially in light of the current political instability in Lebanon coupled with economic and financial crisis.
In the end, we leave our wastewater discharge pipes running non-stop, heavily polluting our water resources, and harming our aquatic ecosystems beyond what they can bear. Ultimately, the build-up of environmental adversities has reached us, hindering our access to clean water and providing a breeding ground for the transmission of waterborne diseases.
The Litani River, the longest national river in Lebanon, is a perfect example. It now resembles a sewage channel due to the absence of proper and efficient sanitation infrastructure in the river basin's village. The Qaraoun Lake is another example, a now eutrophic lake and home to waterborne pathogens and harmful algae.
Last October, a cholera outbreak has been reported in Lebanon. Cholera easily spreads in places with poor water quality and inadequate treatment of wastewater, putting Lebanon at a much higher risk of an outbreak of such waterborne pathogens. Now that the era of climate change has begun, this matter cannot be overlooked as it can put additional strain on our water ecosystem and resources.
This is a call to everyone because it is a public concern. A call to the government to enforce compliance with regulations regarding wastewater discharge and treatment, to prioritize implementing strategies and national plans set to combat the environmental crisis and reduce the degradation of rivers basins, for example the Litani and Al Aouwali. Furthermore, and most importantly, to commit to a time frame for action.
This is also a call to the public to raise their voice and make a change, by taking part in campaigns and volunteering in organizations that appeal to the common goal of treating and protecting our water resources.
Youth can contribute the most by raising their voice and reaching decision-makers. With enthusiasm and minds full of new ideas, they can embody and shape a newly developed country.
As a member of the Lebanon Youth Parliament for Water and as part of the UNICEF coordination team in the "Young Advocates Climate Change Program," I have inferred how the inclusion of youth has a profound influence on policymaking and building strategies and action plans. Therefore, empowering youth and involving them in decision-making programs is of utmost importance.
Yes, we did not treat our environment in the right way, but by holding ourselves accountable for our own actions and knowing the potential we have, from youth to experts, we can start our journey of recovery, tackling the source of pollution as a head start and restoring our ecosystem as a complementary step, to eventually achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.