|Palestinians say the Israeli wall has cut them off from water resources [GALLO/GETTY]|
Palestinian officials in the West Bank have warned that a recurring breakdown of water networks could create a crisis in the coming summer months.
Fadel Ka’wash, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), told Al Jazeera that a chronic shortage of supplies from Israel will leave many in the West Bank without access to piped and safe drinking water.
The PWA says only 1.77 million of a population of 2.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank are connected to a water network.
Michael Bailey, the media manager of Oxfam, an international NGO, says the situation is becoming critical.
About 227,000 Palestinians currently have no access to piped water, while another 190,000 receive inadequate amounts due to faulty networks and water rationing.
He said: “The international community, the PWA and the Israeli authorities have to confront this problem and address it far more seriously.”
Deficit and bureaucracy
The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) also says it is reeling from a budget deficit and cannot provide the millions of dollars required to upgrade the waterworks system.
Ka’wash says that even if funds were available “getting the permits to repair current networks and install new ones, or dig wells is an extremely difficult task due to Israeli bureaucracy”.
Very few permits are given to Palestinians in Area C, the Israeli-controlled territory which accounts for 60 per cent of the West Bank.
About 400 Palestinian villages and 100 Israeli settlements are located in this sector.
“We showed the Israelis our report detailing the water shortages and they agreed to supply us with a bit more in the interim before final status peace negotiations,” Ka’wash said.
“But [the Israelis] said we had to first upgrade and repair our aging water networks, which were neglected during the occupation, so they can handle an increased supply.”
Using rain water
|Palestinian agriculture is constrained by
available land and water [EPA]
B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organisation, has also blamed Israeli water appropriation for the lack of adequate supplies in the West Bank.
In its annual report published in late 2007, B’Tselem said Israel allocates 80 per cent of the water from the West Bank mountain aquifer for its usage while Palestinians are left with the remaining 20 per cent.
According to B’Tselem’s statistics, per capita average consumption for household and urban use in the Palestinian communities is about 60 litres a day, while consumption in Israel is 280 litres a day.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum of 100 litres a day.
Currently, many Palestinians in the West Bank buy a cubic metre of piped water at a cost of five shekels ($1.4) while private water tank owners charge up to 30 shekels ($8.4) per cubic metre.
Palestinian villagers who have fallen on hard economic times have resorted to supplementing their water supplies by using rain water collected in cisterns.
Water in Oslo
Under the 1994 Oslo Accords, Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams agreed that the West Bank requires approximately 80 million cubic metres (MCM) of water annually for private and domestic consumption.
Half of the 80 MCM of water was to be supplied by Israel with the other half by the PNA making use of West Bank resources.
Last year, the Palestinians accused Mekorot, the Israeli water company which sells the water it bores from the West Bank, of cutting supplies to the West Bank during the summer months to ensure that neighbouring Israeli settlements got all the water they needed.
Rima Abu Middan, the natural capital team leader from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Jerusalem, said the Palestinian negotiating team accepted the unfair distribution of water during the Oslo talks because it was an interim agreement which was to be re-negotiated during final status talks.
“However, the Israelis are not even delivering the amount of water they agreed to under those accords,” Middan told Al Jazeera.
But Uri Schor, a Mekorot spokesman, denied such charges.
“Israel actually supplies the Palestinians with more water than was agreed to under the Oslo Accords … how the PWA utilises this is up to [them],” he told Al Jazeera.
“The final sharing of water will be discussed during final negotiations.”
The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Annapolis in the US last year did not address core issues such as the borders of a future Palestinian state, the status of East Jerusalem, the construction of settlements and the distribution of water resources.
In 2007, Oxfam launched a project to develop a water network for the Palestinian village of Jiflik in the Jordan Valley.
The Israeli authorities instructed Oxfam that it required four different permits.
“One permit was required for the water tank, one to extend Mekorot’s water supply, a permit for the water pump itself and another permit for the pipe to cross the road to reach Mekorot’s supply,” Bailey said.
Oxfam officials say the process of filing the correct paperwork and securing permits can take months. If the information supplied is erroneous, the NGO must re-file requests for permits and start the application process from the very beginning.
“A pattern starts to emerge where it appears that the Israelis are deliberately trying to sabotage Palestinian efforts to both access and fully develop their water resources,” Bailey told Al Jazeera.
Awaiting final negotiations
But Zidki Maman, an Israeli military spokesman said how water is distributed is determined by agreements between the PWA and its counterpart, the Israeli Water Authority, represented by Mekorot.
“How they distributed this water was up to them and their Israeli partners,” he said.
Schor, Mekorot’s spokesman, says the Palestinians are using the lack of water resources for political reasons.
“[They] are trying to make Israel look bad,” he said.