UN officers gather in UNIFIL to learn from its wastewater management scheme

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22 Mar 2019

UN officers gather in UNIFIL to learn from its wastewater management scheme

Environment officers and water and sanitation focal points from 15 United Nations peace operations around the world gathered in south Lebanon this week to see first-hand and understand UNIFIL’s successful wastewater and sludge management programme.

During their learning tour, the 23 UN officers spent a week attending classes and visiting five of UNIFIL’s 21 wastewater and sludge management plants spread across the Mission's 1,060 square kilometre area of operation.

Jacquelyn Amoko from the UN’s Environmental Technical Support Unit in Brindisi, Italy, said the week was about building a wastewater strategy by making the teams think “beyond package wastewater treatment plants.” 

“That’s why UNIFIL’s wastewater treatment process is very important,” she said. “It’s making the missions understand that, even in very challenging field settings, we can do more to implement more sustainable wastewater infrastructure.”

Ms. Amoko noted that over the last two years, the UN Department of Peace Operations has launched – as a high priority agenda – an environment strategy for peacekeeping, and in relation to risk management.

“We’ve had the situation where wastewater has had challenges in field settings, and now we want to do more consciously to improve that situation across the board,” she added.

According to Lokuwattage Kamal Gnanendra Perera, the UNIFIL engineer responsible for wastewater management, the wastewater plant in Naqoura caters to about 6,000 people – 4,000 from the Naqoura village and 2,000 living in the UNIFIL camp. He added that the plant has an additional 20 per cent capacity.

“Standards are periodically tested in AUB (American University of Beirut), recycled water is released into the sea, and the rest of the recycled water is used throughout the camp for irrigation and camp beautification purposes,” he said, speaking after giving the participants a tour of the wastewater plant.

At the end of the tour, one of the participants, Thierry Tremblay from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said getting to see what UNIFIL is doing in terms of centralizing wastewater is really “valuable information.” 

Mr. Tremblay thinks learning about UNIFIL’s “centralized system” can be helpful in addressing wastewater management challenges in UNMISS. He added: “We have five large camps, with over 1,000 people, where centralizing wastewater treatment will make sense.”

Sigit Pramono from UN Disengagement Observer Force learned that the UNIFIL technology requires less maintenance, hence cost-effective, and easy to handle. “This would be good for contingents operating in remote areas,” he said. 

Kassaye Atsime of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic thinks UNIFIL’s example gives room for missions to think outside the box and design cost-effective plants. Nazma Banaras Khan of the Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan found it “interesting and impressive.”

More than 10,000 military peacekeepers and more than 800 civilian personnel serve with UNIFIL. But they follow the strategy to reduce environmental footprint in the communities they serve.