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Palestinians Denied Access to Water

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Palestinians Denied Access to Water
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Palestinians Access to WaterAccording to OCHA (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), Palestinians face a serious water crisis, being denied access to their own resources.

Cara Flowers with the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group (EWASH - a coalition of almost 30 water and sanitation sector organizations in Occupied Palestine) said many vulnerable communities in Israeli-controlled Area C (covering 60% of the West Bank) are hardest hit, the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) having limited say over its own resources, ones Israel uses itself, an international water expert saying:

It's "easy (making) the desert bloom by using someone else's water (and) denying them access to their fair share...." In some areas, it's easier denying them none except what they can obtain by other means or illegally.

In 2009, Amnesty International (AI) addressed the problem in its report titled, "Troubled Waters - Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water," explaining that water is life, stealing it a crime, without it "we can't live; not us, not the animals, or the plants," said Fatima al-Nawajah, a South Hebron Hills area resident.

Throughout the Occupied Territories, the problem is longstanding, exacerbated by Israeli water policies, denying Palestinians for themselves, preventing their right to their own resources.

"The inequality in access....between Israelis and Palestinians is striking," especially in summer when needs are greatest. Palestinians consume about 70 liters per capita a day (the lowest amount in the region), well below the WHO-recommended 100 liter minimum, and in some rural areas much less, as little as 20 liters.

In contrast, Israelis use about 300 liters, denying Palestinians an equitable share, including from the underground Mountain Aquifer and Jordan River surface water, reserved solely for Jews.

As a result, around 200,000 Palestinians in rural communities have no access to running water, even in towns and villages connected to the water network because taps often run dry. So rationing is common, especially in summer, with villages and neighborhoods getting piped supplies one day weekly or, in some cases, one every few weeks.

Consequently, many Palestinians must buy water at exorbitant prices, often of "dubious quality," a severe burden for poor families consuming as much as one-fourth of their income, what most can't afford.

In Gaza, the Coastal Aquifer's southern end is the only supply, an inadequate resource for 1.5 million people, Israel prohibiting West Bank transfers. However, "the aquifer has been depleted and contaminated by over-extraction and by sewage and seawater infiltration," making up to 95% of it unfit for irrigation and human consumption.

In addition, vital equipment and other supplies needed to develop and repair infrastructure are prohibited, causing further water and sanitation deterioration, now at a "crisis point," especially in refugee camps and isolated poor communities.

Moreover, for over four decades, Israel over-exploited OPT resources, neglected its water and sanitation infrastructure, denied permit authority to alleviate it, and used the Territories as a dumping ground for its waste, damaging groundwater resources and the environment - in violation of its obligations as an occupier, the Palestinian Authority (PA), Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), and international donors unable to compensate enough because Israel obstructs them.

With no other choice, some Palestinians have drilled unlicensed wells. Others connected to the water network illegally, and many stopped paying their bills, further compounding the problem by undermining the PWA's authority and economic viability, making it dependent on international donors, an unreliable source at best.

Israeli and Occupied Territory Water Resources

Israel and Palestine share the West Bank Mountain Aquifer, for West Bank Palestinians their only resource and a vital one for Israel, replenished by rain and northern snow, flowing north and west toward Israel and the Jordan River in the east.

It's composed of three aquifers (or basins) - the Western, Northeastern, and Eastern ones - with an average yield of 679 - 734 MCM (millions of cubic meters), the higher figure from the Hydrological Service of Israel (HSI), "the most authoritative source," the lower one used by Israeli authorities to allocate supplies to Palestinians.

Gaza's Coastal Aquifer yields up to 450 MCM for Israel, leaving a meager 55 for Gazans requiring other ways to compensate. Doing without isn't an option.

Israel gets additional supplies from the Western Galilee and Carmel Aquifers in the north and southern Negev-Aravah Aquifer. No reliable yields for either are available.

The Jordan River is the most important surface water source, supplying up to 650 MCM, exclusively for Jews, Palestinians denied it entirely, withholding a crucial resource, drying up from overuse, impacting the Dead Sea severely, experiencing a water drop to its lowest ever level.

Israel's Military Order Water Grab

Relevant ones are as follows:

  • No. 92 giving Israel control of all West Bank and Gaza water;
  • No. 158 stipulating that Palestinians can't construct water installations without (nearly impossible to get) permits and those built will be confiscated; and
  • No. 291 annulling all land and water-related arrangements prior to the occupation.

Military orders apply only to Palestinians, not Israelis, including settlers, subject to civil law. Moreover, Israel continues developing its own water infrastructure, reducing Palestinian yields for a growing population and crippling its agricultural output.

For over four decades, Israel restricted water (and land) availability to Palestinians, granting its own and settler populations privileged access. As a result, Palestinians compensate to make due using unsafe sources, buying what they can afford, reusing water, flushing toilets less often, washing less regularly, washing clothes and floors infrequently, growing rain-fed crops in home gardens, keeping fewer animals, and drilling unlicensed shallow wells.

Oslo Accords Established Inequality

The agreement ostensibly "recognize(d) the Palestinian water rights in the West Bank. These will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations and settled in the Permanent Status Agreement (PMA) relating to the various water resources."

However, 17 years later, a PMA was never reached, and Oslo rights were vague and undefined, preventing an equitable distribution of resources - Palestinians getting a meager 20% from the Mountain Aquifer and none from the Jordan River, Israel taking the lion's share, one Palestinian saying:

"There is no water in the village, so we have to bring it from far away and it's expensive. I can't wash and clean as often as needed. We can't afford it. It's a daily struggle."

Gaza's Water Crisis

AI called it dire, the Coastal Aquifer polluted by raw sewage from cesspits and waste collection ponds and seawater, itself contaminated from daily discharges into the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, waterborne diseases are common, UNWRA reporting in February 2009 that:

"Water diarrhea as well as acute bloody diarrhea remain the major causes of morbidity among reportable infectious diseases in (Gaza's) refugee population...."

In September 2009, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP):

"The pollution of groundwater is contributing to two main types of water contamination in the Gaza Strip. First and most importantly, it is causing the nitrate levels in the groundwater to increase. In most parts of (Gaza), especially around areas of intensive sewage infiltration, the nitrate level in groundwater is far above (accepted) guidelines....Second, because the water abstracted now is high in salt, the sewage is also very saline. (It's well known that higher drinking water nitrate levels) can induce methemoglobinaemia (a blood disorder) in young children."



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