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Pipe Dreams

A new filtration system brings clean water and new possibilities to a small village in Lebanon.

text and photographs by Marilyn Raschka

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How would you define your community’ primary needs? A new gym for the high school? A remodeled city hall? A bypass for truckers? Most of us would add buildings and roads. Few of us would do what the villagers of Dmit did.

In Dmit, a Druze village 11 miles from Beirut, some 400 questionnaires were distributed that asked that very question. Before you guess what was at the top of the list, consider their recent history. Many of these villagers were displaced during Lebanon’s civil war. They fled to Beirut or other communities where security, schooling and some hope of a livelihood could be found – if only on a temporary basis. Everyone hoped it would be temporary.

With the arrival of peace the villagers returned to Dmit, but usually on a weekend-only basis. There was much to do, with house repairs high on the list.

Small shopkeepers reopened their stores stocked with the basics: cooking oil, cleaning supplies, paper products, canned items. Bakeries opened with the traditional array of snacks and breads, such as man’uushi, a breakfast bread, and sfiiha, a stuffed pastry. Dmit felt like some weekend getaway spot: busy and thriving on Saturday and Sunday, sleepy and silent during the week.

Help for these villagers came from many nongovernmental organizations and the Lebanese government, particularly the Ministry of Energy and Water.

It is to the government’s credit that during the war, this ministry continued to provide power and water to the people.

But as war spread some communities such as Dmit lost government support. Dmit was located at the end of the line – the pipeline, that is. The consequence of the village’s location was that water once earmarked for Dmit was divided among more populous villages along the line.

When peace returned, the people of Dmit found a sad truth in the old adage, “Possession is nine tenths of the law”: Once something is given away, it’s hard to get it back.

So when some 400 heads of households were polled by the municipality through a questionnaire, it was not surprising that 360 of them voted for potable water, or as they call it in Arabic, my-shefi, or “lip water.”

Once Dmit had a substantial portion of its population back in place, the villagers asked CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, for help in creating a potable water supply, one independent of the old system that brought water from miles away. The Pontifical Mission agreed to help with the infrastructure on the condition that a source of clean water could be found.

Dmit’s pipe dreams were in the works.

Dmit is a Druze village; the Christian village of Serjbal lies just below it. These villages and others around them lie in what the Pontifical Mission’s Beirut staff calls a cluster – a group of villages that, if combined for a common purpose, could have their needs met more efficiently both in time and money. In this case, Serjbal and Dmit were twinned for the water project.

The groundwork began. Local involvement was extensive. The village bought and paid for the land where the well would be built. They paid for the digging of the well and the land where the pipes would be buried. And they paid for three small rooms where the main control and pumping equipment would be housed.

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Tags: Lebanon Village life Farming/Agriculture Water