24 March 2010: International Water Day: chronic water shortage in the West Bank due to discriminatory division of shared resources

Published: 
24 Mar 2010

International Water Day, which the UN has marked for 17 years, is devoted this year to water quality, emphasizing the importance of clean water and the need for sustainable management of water sources.

For Israelis and Palestinians, the ground water from the Mountain Aquifer is a shared water source. It is the largest and highest quality water source in the area, producing 600 million cubic meters (mcm) of water annually. Israel holds almost complete control of the aquifer and exploits 80 percent of the production for its needs, leaving the remainder for the Palestinians' use.

The discriminatory and unfair division of shared water resources creates a chronic water shortage in the West Bank, and is liable to harm Palestinians' health. The World Health Organization recommends a minimal per capita daily consumption of 100 liters. The daily per capita consumption in Israel is 242 liters in urban areas and 211 liters in rural communities (in 2007). By comparison, the consumption in the West Bank is 73 liters per person (in 2008). In certain districts, consumption was as low as 37 liters (Tubas District), 44 (Jenin District), and 56 (Hebron District).

תושב כפר שאינו מחובר לרשת המים במחוז ג'נין ממלא מים ממעיין. צילום: עאטף אבו א-רוב, בצלם, 23.3.09.

Due to the water shortage, a substantial percentage of residents of the West Bank are forced to purchase water from tankers at prices three to six times higher than the price of water supplied in the water network. According to 2008 figures of the Palestinian Water Authority, more than 191,000 Palestinians, living in 134 villages and small towns, are not connected to a water network. In many other parts of the West Bank, water supply through the network is limited some months of the year, primarily during the summer. In these communities, the Palestinians are forced to buy water from tankers operated by the local authorities and, in many cases, by private dealers, over which there is no supervision of the quality of the water.

Another serious problem is the ongoing pollution of the ground water of the Mountain Aquifer by wastewater from both Palestinians and Israelis. One-third of the settlements' wastewater, 5.5 mcm a year, undergo no treatment and flow directly into the environment as raw sewage and the rest is poorly treated. In addition, the Jerusalem Municipality pours more than 10 mcm of raw sewage eastward into the West Bank and the Kidron Stream Basin. More than 90 percent of Palestinian wastewater, amounting to more than 50 mcm a year, also goes untreated. In total, the wastewater of two million of the 2.8 million residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is not treated and pollutes the Mountain Aquifer.

In the past 40 years, Israel has neglected the treatment of wastewater produced by the settlements. In some long-established settlements, there are no wastewater treatment facilities or the facilities have not been operational for many years. Also, since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Israel has delayed, and sometimes prevented, approval for construction of wastewater treatment facilities in Palestinian towns in the West Bank. Without such approval, the Palestinians cannot build the treatment plants. On their part, the Palestinians have not treated the wastewater in the West Bank's rural areas, where most Palestinians live.

The discriminatory division of the shared water resources infringes the Palestinians' right to water, to sanitation, and to health. Israel's policy also infringes the Palestinians' right to gain a livelihood, in that the water shortage prevents development of agriculture, one of the most important economic sectors in the West Bank.