UNDP, the Government of Italy, and the Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water join forces to ensure the sustainability of Zahle wastewater treatment plant

November 10, 2023

Beirut, 10 November 2023; The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the Italian Embassy in Lebanon and the Ministry of Energy and Water (MoEW), with funds from the Government of Italy through the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS), has undertaken a crucial initiative to address the operation and maintenance of the Zahle Wastewater Treatment Plant. In 2022, the Government of Italy allocated a grant of 4 million EURO to ensure the sustainable operation and maintenance of the plant for two years.

As a response to the economic crisis that Lebanon encountered as of 2019, and the deterioration of the public sector’s capacity to manage and operate public services; UNDP with MoEW and the Italian Government joined forces to secure an emergency fund for a limited period to ensure the operation of the plant while providing time for the government to enable sustainable plan for the facility.
The aim of this project is to prevent the shutdown of the facility and avert potential consequences, including the environmental pollution of land and water sources—most notably the Litani River; which could have harmful consequences on the agriculture sector that is a vital source of income for many in the Bekaa — as well as to forestall technical damage to the facility itself.

The Zahle Wastewater Treatment Plant was constructed and became operational in October 2017 through a 22 million EURO soft loan to the Government of Lebanon from the Government of Italy through AICS. Since then, the facility has treated approximately 39 million cubic meters of wastewater. Within the ongoing agreement, and through AICS and UNDP, the facility has additionally treated approximately 7 million cubic meters of wastewater since September 2022. The Zahle Wastewater Treatment Plant is the only operational tertiary treatment plant in Lebanon. The system has proven to be highly effective in treating the incoming wastewater and has also treated cholera-contaminated wastewater. Furthermore, the facility is enhancing the flow of clean water into the Litani River and reducing pollution rates within the river.

"The sustainable operation and maintenance of the various wastewater facilities is a priority for the Ministry of Energy and Water. Accordingly, the Ministry has been coordinating closely with various partners and donors to ensure the continuation of the operation and maintenance of these facilities. On a strategic level, the sustainable operation and maintenance can only be achieved through the engagement of citizens in paying their water fees and registering their households within the system. Furthermore, despite the current economic situation, the ministry has been actively engaged in developing new projects while looking forward to additional collaboration with other ministries to address and manage non-domestic wastewater" H.E. Mr. Walid Fayad Minister of Energy and Water (MoEW).

"I cannot but stress the need for the effective management of the wastewater sector. It is fundamental to protect our environment and ensure healthy living conditions for neighbouring communities. Over the past year, this facility has successfully treated more than 7 million cubic meters of wastewater preventing potential pollution of groundwater and rivers like the Litani and Berdawni. This response was a pilot intervention that can pave the way for future replication if and when needed, while its failure may discourage potential donors and might impose a burden on public health and the sustainability of the agriculture sector affecting the national food security” Ms. Melanie Hauenstein, UNDP Resident Representative in Lebanon.

This project is part of the overall programme of the Italian Cooperation for the Water and Wastewater sector in Lebanon, amounting to over 180 million Euros. Projects include development of potable water networks and sewage systems including the construction and operation and management of wastewater treatment facilities, as well as technical assistance and capacity building to the Government of Lebanon.
"Since the beginning of the project AICS Beirut provided technical assistance to the Lebanese Institutions involved. This support includes implementation of the project, its operation and maintenance, and its sustainability, in order to assure positive results" Ms. Alessandra Piermattei, AICS Office Director.

"Italy invested in this project because we are aware of its critical importance for the wellbeing of local communities. The protection of health and environment are an essential prerequisite for a productive society, and this is especially true in an area where sustainable agriculture is a key driver of economic growth. Preserving the functioning of this facility in the current circumstances was therefore a priority and I am proud of the additional investment Italy made. Now it's crucial to work together for a sustainable way-forward strategy so that Lebanese institutions can assume full ownership of the plant, in line with the overall reform of the water sector that Lebanon is working on. Today's meeting was convened precisely to this end: to make sure that every stakeholder takes its responsibility, and the plant will continue to operate when the Italian grant will be over next summer.” Ms. Nicoletta Bombardiere, Ambassador of Italy.

However, the facility is tackling significant challenges to maintain sustainable operations beyond the current funding period. These hurdles range from technical issues, such as handling non-conforming waste and inconsistent power supply, to administrative and legislative adjustments needed in the face of Lebanon's financial crisis.

Technically, the plant is receiving illegal industrial discharge which should not be mixed with municipal wastewater, and it should receive only municipal wastewater. The facility also requires a consistent energy source and a national plan for sludge management. To combat these issues, UNDP and plant operator BUTEC are engaging local stakeholders to regulate waste input and network maintenance, while collaborations with the Government of Italy, MoEW, and partners like the World Bank aim to enhance power supply and construct a sludge dryer system.

Administratively, MoEW is exploring financial restructuring to support the sustainable operations post-funding, including the appointment of a director for the Bekaa Water Establishment and the development of a dollarized tariff system. Additionally, collaborative mechanisms with municipalities for improved tariff collection and public awareness campaigns on the importance of subscription and payment are under consideration.

As part of its ongoing efforts to support Lebanon's sustainable development goals, the Italian Embassy and AICS are collaborating with UNDP to help Lebanese communities overcome the challenges they currently face. This is done through infrastructure development in various sectors, such as the case of wastewater management. 

UNDP has been working in the water and wastewater management sector for more than a decade with a total budget of nearly $70 million.  Projects include development of water, irrigation canals, and the development of operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment facilities as well as policy and technical support to the Government of Lebanon.

UNDP is working in Lebanon since 1986 as a development partner supporting economic recovery, including working with municipalities to deliver basic services to host communities, promoting clean energy and solid waste management, strengthening governance and rule of law, providing support to elections, and working on empoweriing women and youth.

For more information, please contact

In UNDP – Lebanon    | Rana Moughabghab | rana.moughabghab@undp.org    | +961 3 835 351

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