The project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, involves an international mix of public and private partners: H2O for Humanity, GreenCo Water, Mercy Corps, the René Moawad Foundation and Zero Mass Water.

“I’ve worked on Middle East water issues and have a lot of friends and contacts there, so I thought perhaps we could connect these two things.” Regional unrest Using the technology and resources of all the partners, the consortium designed small-scale water systems that use reverse osmosis, or desalination, to avoid further depleting scarce groundwater supplies.

The project, titled “A Holistic Water Solution for Underserved and Refugee Host Communities in Lebanon and Jordan,” has a target goal of providing water to 36,000 people in 18 communities.

Larson says the project is already providing water in some communities, but it has required adjustments as refugee numbers have swollen.

“The Lebanese people and the Jordanian people have been remarkably hospitable and generous to the Syrian refugees, but there’s a limit to that hospitality. They themselves are water-poor countries that struggle to manage that resource. And having that influx of people, it creates tensions, real tensions, between the host communities and the incoming refugees.” Legal matters Bringing water to distressed areas of the Middle East involves infrastructure, requiring expertise in science, sustainability and engineering.

“These businesses are now selling it to construction sites to use in mixing concrete. We don’t need to have high-quality water to mix concrete, so you’re having construction sites that are buying the wastewater. So even our waste is generating money in at least some of our sites. That’s been really exciting.” Navigating the legalities of water infrastructure in the Middle East may also require, in some instances, an understanding of Sharia law.

“It has a right called shafa, which is the right to drink, and a right called shirb, which is the right to irrigate. And different communities may interpret those rights differently. Some will think that you can never charge for drinking water. And some will say, well, you can charge for drinking water if it’s a private water right, but not if it is a public water right. And some will say that you can charge for drinking water if it’s a public water right, but only to the extent that the person buying it from you can afford it.” Neither the water systems of Jordan nor Lebanon are officially governed by Sharia law, but Larson says a related Ottoman civil code known as Majalla still has some influence.