FAFS, in collaboration with Lebanon Youth Parliament for Water (LYPW), Water Innovation Lab (WIL) Lebanon, and Waterlution, organized an open session Water challenges and opportunities in Lebanon and the region and the role of youth. Keynote speaker for the session was Loïc Fauchon, President of the World Water Council (WWC) and the Société des Eaux de Marseille S.A, a private water treatment and supply company. The session addressed the main challenges facing youth in Lebanon regarding the water sector, and it explored potential opportunities for capacity building and entrepreneurship that youth can leverage to promote the sector and contribute to long-term water security. The session was moderated by Dean Rabi Mohtar.
In his keynote, Fauchon described his career journey, highlighting the NGO TransSahara, which he created in the 1970s in Sub Saharan Africa with the goal of helping populations and children affected by emergencies. Saying, “water is life,” Fauchon stressed the importance of development issues as well as water issues, explaining that water is an indispensable element to the achievement of dignity and development.
Fauchon proudly leads the international multistakeholder platform that is WWC in mobilizing action at all levels on critical water issues, and being the ‘voice of water’ by enlisting the support of all political leaders toward achieve water security, adaptation and sustainability. Fauchon considers water, energy, food, health, and education essential to progress in development and to bestowing dignity. He also highlighted the work of WWC across the three pillars of water: knowledge, financing, and governance to achieve impact. Fauchon encouraged all communities to adapt this formula and instill change. WWC President Fauchon reiterated his commitment and responsibility to support youth becoming ready to take on the next great challenges and responsibilities as they prepare a new generation to achieve stability.
Mbaruku Vyakweli, WWC Alternate Governor from Nairobi, Kenya, spoke about current initiatives in Nairobi to secure sufficient water supply and his role in WWC to acquire water experts and investment in new water technologies.
Maya Atieh, Water Resources Engineer, Lecturer at the Lebanese American University, and President of the Lebanon Youth Parliament for Water (LYPW), offered an overview of the water challenges in Lebanon, one of which is poor water management. The lack of water and wastewater infrastructure has led overexploitation and pollution of water sources and includes illegal water wells and use of cesspools. Ms. Atieh noted that, at the institutional level, little investment is available, resulting in fragmentation of water institutions. She explained her perspective that the country suffers from an education gap: there is a need to recognize that water is a vital element that policy and awareness must protect. She also discussed the role of the LYPW in connecting Lebanese youth who are passionate about water. The major goals of LYPW are advocacy for the inclusion of youth in decision-making processes pertaining to the nation’s water; to raise awareness of Lebanon’s specific water crisis; and to apply youth-led initiatives and solutions that promote SDG 6, which calls for ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Georges Gharios, Agricultural Engineer, Water Law Specialist, and Water Innovation Lab (WIL) Lebanon Organizer, highlighted the role of job opportunities in reviving the water sector. Gharios presented some alarming facts: “According to McAffee and the Global Economic Forum, by 2025, 90% of the new jobs will be created in water challenged nations like Lebanon, and 30% of desired occupation skills set will change by 2020”. He stressed the need to equip students with new skills that will enable them to work in the water sector. Utilities and governments around the world are investing in their young professionals in the water sector in an effort to bridge the huge gap between existing senior professionals and incoming ones. This will necessitate the transfer of knowledge and experience between both groups, and as an example, Gharios highlighted the role of Waterlution in preparing the youth with new skillsets for the future water sector, including creating collaborative innovations, multidisciplinary tasks, and the ability to lead in complex situations.
Sara Dia, Water Quality Specialist and WIL Lebanon Coordinator, spoke about the role of youth initiatives in energizing the water sector and highlighted the role of WIL Lebanon as a platform for empowering new graduates in their transition into the workforce. She highlighted the strong partnership between WIL and LYPW and called for governmental support to institutionalize the partners’ efforts for greater impact. Sara alerted to the future of the water sector as complex and challenging given the climate change predictions and urged youth to ask for increased opportunities to step into leadership.
The speakers concluded the session with take-home messages highlighting key ideas and issues to address. Fauchon emphasized that Lebanon is not a poor country, but lacks sufficient water reserves from winter to summer; therefore, Lebanon requires greater water preservation capacity (aquatic reserves and integrated dams). He called for enhanced technical efficiency in the water network and innovative solutions to supply water more efficiently. Regarding the problem of sanitation and non-functional sewage plants in Lebanon, Fauchon pointed to the missing links between knowledge, financing, and governance: the Lebanese people have the knowledge and the money, but lack the political will and governance to implement these goals. Georges Gharios called for entrepreneurial, rather than employment-driven, thinking; he encouraged graduates of different disciplines to become water sector innovators. While Maya Atieh called for governmental support, Sara Dia called for promotion of youth-led initiatives to empower and strengthen young professionals to deal with a complex water future.