BEIRUT: A team of Dutch water management experts concluded a weeklong fact-finding mission to Lebanon Friday to find and assess potential projects to improve management of the vital commodity. “We have a very strong practice in both water and agriculture, so we feel that there is room for us to offer development in Lebanon,” mission head Winfried Pietersen told The Daily Star.
The delegation came as one of the first steps in an 86 million euro ($96 million) Dutch aid package for Lebanon, of which 15 million will be allocated to improving water resource management and agricultural practices.
“Recent developments such as demographic growth and the influx of the Syrian refugees have increased the demand for water by 12 percent,” Dutch Ambassador Hester M.J. Somsen said at a recent conference organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization and UNESCO, titled “Water Scarcity and Possible Solutions in the Litani River Basin.”
There are many NGOs and embassies in Lebanon working on water projects, as the sector is poorly managed and plagued by aging infrastructure. Since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, the influx of refugees has placed additional pressure on water authorities nationwide.
However, the Dutch delegation insists that their long history in water management gives them the ability to plug gaps in the existing aid framework.
“Water is in our DNA; 55 percent of our country is at or below sea level. We have a long tradition in building resources and capacity with water,” Pietersen said.
This vast experience has made the Dutch world leaders in water management, and it is this high level of knowledge and technology that the delegation would like to bring to bear on Lebanon’s water troubles.
Data, they say, is crucial. Measurement of the current situation can expose areas that need to be addressed. Furthermore, there is an immense lack of information on water due to immaturity in the sector and issues of accessibility.
The team said that one positive is that there isn’t a pressing need to assist the government in drafting legislative frameworks, as they say Lebanon already has sound plans for improving water management.
The largest issue is simply implementation. Here too, the knowledge exists, though much of it is in the private sector. “In Lebanon there is a scarcity, and with the additional refugee crisis, there is more of a burden on the infrastructure that is already almost nonexistent. Regardless, water is a resource that should be made available to everyone – to refugees and local communities. There is a lot of work to do, and we can make a difference,” said Marc Zeenny, the economic and commercial attache at the Dutch Embassy.
The fact-finding mission will now return home and draw up proposals for projects, but the embassy in Beirut insists that things will move quickly.
“We also hope that two years are enough to implement these systems and train the water establishment staff on how to use [Dutch technologies] properly,” Zeenny added.