IPCRI

מרכז ישראל/פלסטין למחקר ולמידע

مركز إسرائيل فلسطين للأبحاث و المعلومات

Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information

 

 

IPCRI Environmental Newsletter – Number 1

November 2007

 

Note: this is first of a series of newsletters designed to draw attention to matters of joint concern to Israelis and Palestinians in the field of environment and water.

 

When wells and springs run dry . . .

 

The plight of Palestinians and Israelis who do not have access to piped water

 

For Israelis and Palestinians knowledgeable about water supply and distribution in their region it comes as no surprise to hear that there are over 230,000 Palestinians, most of them living in villages, who do not have access to piped water. This problem, and awareness of it, has existed for years. It is more surprising to learn that in Israel there are an estimated 100,000 people, most of whom living in unrecognized villages, who are similarly deprived.

 

How is it possible that, in a region which is not without resources - the Israeli economy is booming and the Palestinian Authority has had access for over a decade to substantial aid funds - the basic human right of access to clean and readily available water has not been extended to such large numbers of Palestinians and Israelis? 

 

Disadvantaged Palestinian and Israeli villages do have springs and wells providing water. However, in summer months many of these run dry, and residents are forced to turn to water supplied by tankers. This water is, as a general rule, expensive (at least three times the cost of piped water) and is often contaminated. There is no system to monitor the quality of tanker-supplied water. Contamination, whether it comes from the source or from oil-infiltration (occurring in the tankers), goes un-identified. Villagers try to compensate by using as little contaminated water as possible, but the effects on hygiene and health are evident.

 

There have, of course, been efforts to improve the situation. During the last twenty years, organizations in the West Bank, such as the Palestinian Hydrology Group, World Vision and ANERA, have worked to provide alternative sources of water to those who are not connected to the central system. The Palestinian Water Authority and its Israeli counterpart have worked together with Mekorot – the Israeli company responsible for water distribution in Israel and in much of Palestine - to link a number of communities to the central system over the years. These efforts have not been enough. The problem remains.

 

While there are no accurate estimates of the cost of linking all villages currently without piped water, Palestinian and Israeli, to a central water system, it can be assumed that such costs, especially as a result of Palestine’s rugged and varied terrain, will be high. However, it is hard to believe that it is the question of funding which has prevented the necessary progress. While there are many competing demands for development funds in the region, projects which can rely on  the political will of the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, can be expected to find the resources they need. Providing water to rural communities in the region has not become a priority.

 

Part of the reason may be that communities lacking legitimate water supply are often those most difficult to reach and without much political clout…the communities where providing a piped supply is most expensive are often those with the least ability to lobby in their own interests.

 

The general scarcity of water in the region suggests another reason for the lack of the political will required to remedy the situation. There may be a tacit assumption in official circles that limited water resources will be overstretched if piped water is supplied to all the communities currently without it. While this is a possible scenario, the answer to a limited supply must not be the continued exclusion of hundreds of thousands of people to reasonable access to water. Digging new wells and building new pumping stations, making full use of desalination, importing water from water rich countries, and increasing recycling of grey water for agricultural purposes in Israel and in Palestine, all offer the change to provide clean, potable water to those in distress.

 

The question remains, why, if water is available, technological difficulties not insurmountable, and funding (at least over a period of years) likely to be available, is the problem not being tackled with more urgency?

 

There is, of course, no single answer. The most evident reason is the basic instability of the region and its many and various political and social tensions, which create difficulties for those working on practical problems such as the supply of water. There are also lingering suspicions on the Palestinian side that Israel wishes to maintain control of water supply for security reasons and is not really interested in improving the situation. However this may be such explanations fall short of a complete answer.

 

In Israel the communities that lack piped water area nearly all from unrecognized Arab villages to which basic services are denied. Here the problem is purely a socio-economic one. These are typically villages which Israel had hoped to move to other locations. The Israeli government is reluctant in these cases to provide any services that might lead to the development of a permanent infrastructure and make these communities’ removal more difficult. The “logic” of such an argument does not recognize the protracted nature of the dispute over unrecognized villages. While the authorities, national and local, wrestle with this problem the people living the communities continue to be deprived of the basic right of water, as they have been for decades.

 

In Palestine plans to provide water to remote communities are continually frustrated by violence, which precipitates closures, prevents the free movement of people and hinders practical work on the ground. Palestinian sources claim that these problems are exacerbated by the negative attitude of the Israeli authorities dealing with water while Israeli experts claim that the various Palestinian authorities hinder positive action by their inefficiency. There is no doubt that in Palestine donors are discouraged by the lack of progress, and often choose to support projects perceived as more glamorous than the painstaking provision of supply to communities that, for the most part, are remote and without much influence.

 

Lack of effective cooperation between the various parties involved is undoubtedly a cause of difficulty. While all recognized Israeli settlements in the West Bank have piped water and Arab villages nearby do not, it would seem that the same pipes used for supply to settlements could also provide water to nearby villages. Such a solution would require the kind of coordination that has been difficult to achieve between two sides in a situation where each blames the other for the situation.

 

The Palestinian and Israeli Water Authorities need to look again at this problem and work together to find a solution. They can (if they have the will) work together with donors; make use of local and international expertise to help solve the problem in the most effective and economically acceptable way possible.

 

Perhaps a special Committee in which all important stakeholders are represented should be created specifically for the purpose, not of writing a report on the problem, but of taking action to resolve it, working through the various executive organizations concerned.

 

It is a miserable comment on the situation in the region that so many people living there go without clean, drinkable water. Resolution is in the interests of both Israel and Palestine, and most of all in the interest of those who struggle each day to find clean water to drink.

 

The Israel and Palestinian directors of the two Water Authorities should take the lead now that the Joint Water Committee is meeting again. They can use their strength and energy to deal with this sad state of affairs. If they do so they will demonstrate that Israelis and Palestinians can work together for the good of all concerned.  It is not too strong a description of the situation to say that is a scandal which causes unnecessary suffering to thousands of people who are deprived of their basic human right to drinkable water.

 

 

Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information

P.O. Box 9321, Jerusalem 91092

Tel: +972-2-676-9460   Fax: +972-2-676-8011

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