Undeniable discrimination in the amount of water allocated to Israelis and Palestinians

Published: 
12 Feb 2014

Water truck at Khirbet Jenbah, South Hebron Hills. Village is not hooked up to water grid. Photo by Oren Ziv, Activestills, 3 January 2013.
Water truck at Khirbet Jenbah, South Hebron Hills. Village is not hooked up to water grid. Photo by Oren Ziv, Activestills, 3 January 2013.

Following the Knesset debate today, B'Tselem publishes a short FAQ about inequality in the distribution of water between Palestinians and Israelis.

1. Is there discrimination in terms of the quantity of water available to Israelis and Palestinians?

Yes, there is discrimination in water allocation and Israeli citizens receive much more water than Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Government of Israel is largely responsible for this discrimination due its water policy: First, minimal amounts of water are supplied to Palestinians and water from shared resources is unequally divided; Second, existing infrastructure with high levels of water loss is not upgraded, no infrastructure is developed for communities that are not connected to the water grid and water infrastructure projects in areas located inside the Palestinian Authority are not approved. It is important to note that the water allocation for Palestinians was determined in the Oslo Accord, but the agreement included a plan to increase the supply. This plan never materialized. In addition, demand for water has increased due to population growth over the twenty years since the Oslo Accord was signed.

2. Are there gaps in water consumption between Israelis and Palestinians? Absolutely.

According to the Israeli national water company, Mekorot, the average household water consumption in Israel is between 100 and 230 liters per person per day. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 100 liters per person per day. This figure relates to urban consumption which includes drinking, food preparation and hygiene, and takes into consideration urban services such as hospitals and public institutions. Israelis living in the settlements, as well as inside Israel, generally have access to as much running water as they please.

This is not the case for Palestinians.

Palestinians living in the OPT can be divided into three groups according to the amount of water available to them, which is less than the Israeli average in all three cases:

  • Palestinians in the West Bank who are connected to the water infrastructure: The average daily consumption among Palestinians connected to a running-water network is about 73 liters. There are significant gaps between the various cities (169 liters per person per day in Jericho compared to 38 in Jenin). However, even those who are connected do not necessarily have access to running water throughout the day or the year, and water is supplied intermittently, following a rotation program. In many places in the West Bank, including city centers, residents must fill tanks with water, when it is available through the network and use it when running water is not available. Communities located at the edges of the water supply network and in high areas experience the water shortage more acutely and residents must buy water from private dealers at a much higher cost than the water supplied through the grid.
  • Palestinians in the West Bank who are not connected to the water supply network: About 113,000 people living in 70 communities, 50,000 of them in Area C. These residents are not included in the calculations of the public water authority. They rely on rainwater which they store in cisterns and on water sold in tanker trucks by private dealers. In the southern West Bank, about 42 communities consume less than sixty litres per person per day and shepherding communities in the northern Jordan Valley consume only twenty. Private dealers charge between 25 and 40 NIS per cubic meter, depending on the distance between the village and the water source. The price is up to three times that of the highest tariff Israelis pay for water for household consumption. In the summer months, the monthly household expenditure on water in communities that buy water from tankers is between 1,250 and 2,000 NIS, about half of the entire monthly household expenditure.
  • Palestinians in the Gaza Strip: Average consumption in the Gaza Strip is 70-90 liters per person per day, but the quality of the water is extremely poor. Ninety percent of the water pumped in Gaza is considered un-potable according to the standards set by the World Health Organization. For full and updated information on this issue.

3. Causes for gaps in water supply to Palestinians in the West Bank compared to Israelis:

  • The amount of water supplied to the entire West Bank: According to 2011 figures, the West Bank water supply was comprised of 87 million cubic meters pumped from official Palestinian water sources and 53 million cubic meters sold to the Palestinian Authority by Mekorot. About 51 million cubic meters of the water in the public water network was used for agriculture. According to the Israeli water authority (2009), an additional 10 million cubic meters of water are pumped from unauthorized wells, but this water is used for agriculture as well as drinking. According to Palestinian water authority figures, more than 2.3 Palestinians live in the West Bank. This means that under optimal conditions, the water supply (excluding the unauthorized wells) could have allowed domestic and urban consumption of 100 liters per person per day, but this is where the second factor affecting water consumption comes into play.
  • Water loss: There is extensive water loss on the public water grid in the West Bank - about 30%, and more in some locations. Water theft is also a widespread problem. The water infrastructure in the Palestinian Authority needs upgrading, but this is not possible without significant work in Area C, where every action requires Israeli approval at the joint water committee. Such approvals are rare. Even committee-approved projects may be delayed or stopped, due to restrictions imposed by the Civil Administration.
  • The Palestinian water network is managed by dozens of local water authorities without a coordinating mechanism. The inability to develop a nationally controlled water network, with reservoirs that could supply the needs of all residents is inextricably tied to the fact that every action in Area C requires Israeli approval.