180,000 residents of Nablus suffering acute water shortage since June

Published: 
13 Sep 2017

Residents of Nablus lack sufficient water all year round and especially in summer. The shortage has grown worse in recent years due to low rainfall. Israel prevents the Palestinians from digging new wells and refuses to sell them more water to ease the suffering. As a result of this policy, in summer residents must purchase water privately, at high costs, and use it for essential needs only. Israel abuses its control of all water sources between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean by subjecting Palestinians to a permanent shortage of water.

Water tanks on the roofs of Nablus homes. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B’Tselem, 13 September 2017.
Water tanks on the roofs of Nablus homes. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B’Tselem, 13 September 2017.

Residents of the Palestinian city of Nablus, in the northern West Bank, receive their water supply from five out-of-date water drills – al-Far'ah, al-Badhan, Sabastiya, Odala and Deir Sharaf. Together, these wells produce an average of 1,000 cubic meters (CM) of water an hour. They receive an additional 200 CM an hour from local fresh water springs. The Nablus Municipality estimates that meeting the daily needs of the city’s population would require another 400 CM an hour, making the total amount required 1,600 CM an hour.

I get depressed about how dirty the house is, and particularly the toilets and kitchen. Every time I looked at them over the past month, I felt like crying. Everything needs cleaning and there isn’t a drop of water to drink. We had to buy bottles of mineral water from the supermarket. For about 15 days, I only made simple food such as potatoes and eggs for lunch, but my children complained about that a lot, especially my youngest son. Piles of dirty laundry accumulated and I don’t have clean clothes for the children. I don’t know what to do.

From the testimony of Safaa Kusbah

Water stored in bottles in Nablus. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 7 September 2017Since about a third of the water pumped into the city is lost due to leaks in the dated pipes and to other technical difficulties, the shortage is actually worse and residents only receive 800 CM an hour, on average. The municipality also directs some of the city’s water supply to local villages that also suffer from an acute water shortage. As a result, Nablus residents must make do with about 65 liters per person a day (according to 2016 data). 

The Nablus Municipality tried to increase supply by purchasing water from the Israeli water company, Mekorot. In 1996, the Israeli authorities undertook to sell the municipality between 100 and 150 CM of water per hour, pumped from two wells located in the Nablus district – the Huwarah well and the Quza well. In the decade that followed the agreement, Israel delivered the water intermittently, until it stopped delivery altogether in 2006, citing roadworks and maintenance at Huwarah Checkpoint as the reason. Though the work ended long ago, water supply has not been renewed. The Nablus Municipality has contacted the Israeli District Coordination Office and water authorities repeatedly regarding this issue, most recently this summer, but has yet to receive a response.

Although all households in the city are connected to the water system, supply varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. About 20% of the residents receive much less water than others, mostly those living in the refugee camps – ‘Askar, Balata and Ein Beit al-Maa – and in about 10 neighborhoods that are topographically elevated, where the water pressure is lower. The chairman of the Nablus Municipality Water Department estimates that the average consumption in those areas is 50 liters per person a day.

The children play outside and are used to taking a shower at the end of the day. My son, who is 11, says he wants to cut his hair because he can’t stand how greasy it feels. I want to hug my children, but it’s hard because their bodies smell. So does my husband, who works as a metalworker and sweats a lot. There isn’t even enough water for my own basic hygiene as a woman. I can’t stand myself like that and it makes me very irritable. 

From the testimony of Safaa Kusbah

The water shortage in Nablus grows worse with every summer that passes. This year, due to the dearth of rain, well output in the area dropped by 20% to 30%.  In previous summers, Nablus residents received running water once every five to eight days. This year, supply went down to once every ten to fourteen days, for 12 or 24 hours each time. Residents are forced to purchase bottled water and water from tankers at a high cost, and to limit use to essential needs only.

I’ve done everything I can to cut down our water consumption. I reduced the water pressure in the faucets and in the toilets, and I brought containers to save water. I started calculating every drop of water. I really envy the people who live in the settlements and swim in swimming pools. They use as much water as they want and have a generous supply around the clock.

From the testimony of Lama Aghbar

Background

Palestinians in the West Bank suffer from a water shortage throughout the year, and are supplied far less water than Israelis. In 2014, Palestinian water consumption in the West Bank was about 80 liters per person a day, which is lower the than the 100-liter minimum recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). That year, according to Israel Water Authority statistics, average water consumption for household, commercial and industrial needs in Israel was some 287 liters per person a day – almost four times the average Palestinian consumption.

The quantities of water supplied to Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank are anachronistic and are fundamentally unsuited to the current needs of the population. These amounts were determined more than 20 years ago in the Oslo Accords, which were meant to remain in place for only five years – i.e., more than 15 years ago. Yet as far as Israel is concerned, these water arrangements, which are a far cry from meeting the current needs of Palestinians in the West Bank and ignore natural population growth, are still in effect. 

To compound this, Israel impedes the development of new Palestinian water infrastructure, destroys and confiscates existing infrastructure, and limits Palestinian access to local water sources such as fresh water springs, drilled wells and rainwater cisterns. Together, these factors have created a permanent water shortage for Palestinians in the West Bank. 

Israel seized control of all water sources in the West Bank immediately upon occupying it in 1967, and retains control over all water sources between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Israel uses the water as it sees fit, ignoring the needs of the Palestinian population. As a result, Palestinians face a largely manmade chronic water shortage. This state of affairs clearly illustrates how Israel views water – and all other resources in the West Bank – as its sole property, to be used for Israeli needs only, at the expense of Palestinians. 

Nablus resident washing dishes using a bottle, as there is no running water. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 7 September 2017.
Nablus resident washing dishes using a bottle, as there is no running water. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 7 September 2017.

In testimonies they gave to B'Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i, residents of Nablus described the implications of having their water supply cut off this summer, sometimes for two weeks in a row. Families had to purchase water privately and reported that in the intense heat, even that was not enough for basic hygiene needs, let alone laundry, washing dishes or cleaning. They had to live in a dirty environment and suffer bad odors during the water crisis in the city. 

Safaa Kusbah, 30, is a married mother of three who lives in the al-Makhfiyeh neighborhood of Nablus. In a testimony she gave on 30 July 2017, she stated:

We are six people at home, including my mother-in-law, who is 75. Since the beginning of July this year we have really suffered from being cut off from the water supply. Over the past month, we were only supplied water twice – once every 14 days. We have three water containers, which can hold four cubic meters. But that isn’t enough for the house or for our personal needs for two weeks. A family of six can’t live off four cubic meters of water for 14 days.

I get depressed about how dirty the house is, and particularly the toilets and kitchen. Every time I looked at them over the past month, I felt like crying. Everything needs cleaning and there isn’t a drop of water to drink. We had to buy bottles of mineral water from the supermarket. We need eight bottles a day, and that’s an added expense of 10 shekels (2.8 USD) a day. I even stopped cooking, because you need water to clean the vegetables and wash the pots and dishes afterwards. For about 15 days, I only made simple food such as potatoes and eggs for lunch, but my children complained about that a lot, especially my youngest son, Adam, who is nine. Piles of dirty laundry accumulated and I don’t have clean clothes for the children. I don’t know what to do.

Showers are another big problem. The children play outside and are used to taking a shower at the end of the day. My son, who is 11, says he wants to cut his hair because he can’t stand how greasy it feels. I want to hug my children, but it’s hard because their bodies smell. So does my husband, who works as a metalworker and sweats a lot. There isn’t even enough water for my own basic hygiene as a woman. I can’t stand myself like that and it makes me very irritable. 

My husband and I had a fight because he didn’t have any clean socks left. He got mad when he wanted to go to work one morning and couldn’t find a single clean sock. What am I supposed to do? How is it my fault? I also argued with my son about stupid things. The situation at home is really gross, everything is dirty and smells unpleasant. We can’t ask the neighbors for water – they don’t have any, either. The whole neighborhood is suffering from the same problem. All anyone can talk about is the water shortage and when we will get the supply back. People don’t ask how you are anymore, but whether you have water, how you’re managing without, and when we’ll all have water again.

Water stored in bottles and pots in Nablus. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 7 September 2017
Water stored in bottles and pots in Nablus. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 7 September 2017

It’s got to the point that I avoid having visitors over. My brother-in-law came to visit us, but when he came inside while we were eating, he asked how we could bear to eat with such a terrible smell in the house. I told him that we’re used to the smell by now and don’t even notice it. I told my father and my brothers and sisters not to come over because we don’t even have a drop of water to give them to drink. But the truth is that I’m ashamed of how our home smells, especially the toilets, which stink. 

The last time the water supply came on, I was happy just to touch the water as it flowed out of the faucet. I immediately started cleaning the house, washing the pile of dishes in the sink and doing ten loads of laundry. I washed the clothes from midday until midnight. I had a shower and felt like a new person. When my husband came out of the shower, he said that he felt as if he’d taken off clothes made of salt. I filled 50 bottles of water and filled all the kitchen utensils with lids with water, so that we’d at least have water to wash the dishes and pour down the toilet. I watch over my children whenever they’re using water for anything, even washing their hands, to make sure they don’t waste a drop. I only wash clothes when the supply is back on, because I’m afraid we’ll be left without water for drinking and cooking.

Lama Aghbar, 38, is a married mother of four who lives in the al-Makhfiyeh neighborhood. In testimony taken on 31 July 2017, she described the lengths to which she goes to get water:

Water stored in bottles in Nablus. Photo: Salma a-Deb'i, B'Tselem, 7 September 2017

When you order a water container, it takes several days to arrive, and we couldn’t find anyone who’s willing to carry it up seven stories to the roof of our building and connect it to the fixed containers there. All the workers could do was put the container downstairs, connect it to the roof with a pipe, and then pump the water up. That is risky, too, because if the pipe jerks from the water pressure, it could knock one of the workers off the roof. While they were pumping the water into the container on the roof, I prayed to God that it would go well and that no-one would be injured.

When it was over and we finally had a bit of water at home, my children celebrated. My daughter Majd, who is 19, filled up bottles and looked after them as if they were gold. She told me that she hated herself over the past few days, when she couldn’t take a shower, and that without water, people will turn into monsters.

I’ve done everything I can to cut down our water consumption. I reduced the water pressure in the faucets and in the toilets, and I brought containers to save water. I started calculating every drop of water. I really envy the people who live in the settlements and swim in swimming pools. They use as much water as they want and have a generous supply around the clock.

J’afar ‘Obeid, 60, a married father of eight, also lives in the al-Makhfiyeh neighborhood and is a greengrocer. In a testimony he gave on 6 August 2017, he also described the water crisis:

In my whole life, I’ve never experienced a water crisis like the one that’s suffocating Nablus now. The situation has grown much worse because of little rainfall and population growth. According to the municipality’s statistics, things will get even worse over the next few years. Also, although there is plenty of underground water in the area, the Israelis don’t allow us to drill new wells.

I never imagined that we, and our neighbors, would get to the point of having our water is cut off for two weeks and that I would become a water supplier. Luckily for me, I have several water containers. Most of the buildings in Nablus are high-rises, so people can’t put containers larger than two cubic meters on their roofs. Because I live on the ground floor in an eight-story building, I put a few containers in the yard, so we didn’t run out of water.

I saw the suffering of my neighbors, and of my children who live in various parts of the city. They had to come to us when they ran out of water. My married daughters came with their children and husbands to do their laundry and take showers. Some of them stayed with us for a few days. My daughter Ra’dah has six small children, and every time they run out of water she comes here, because she doesn’t have any alternative.

It’s very difficult in every respect and we have to help them. I also filled up containers for my neighbors and put them in their elevator. I won’t deny water to anyone, even if I remain without a drop.

In the mosque near my home, al-Makhfiyeh Mosque, the water supply was cut off for five days in a row. The worshippers arrived but they didn’t find a drop of water to wash themselves before prayers. They couldn’t use the toilets, either. I’m a member of the mosque committee, and I had to close the toilets because the situation was becoming unbearable and the odor became a hazard. I filled about 50 bottles of water that I keep in my greengrocer’s store, near the mosque, so that the worshippers can come and wash themselves before prayers.

I called the Nablus Municipality Water Department and begged them to increase the flow of water. They told me that there was a fixed rotation for each neighborhood and that they couldn’t disconnect one neighborhood to help another. They can’t allow themselves to deviate from the rotation.

I heard the head of the Water Department and the director of the municipality on the radio, saying that the shortage is due to the transfer of water to nearby villages that don’t have any water. This happened because the Israeli water authority reduced the quantity of water it supplies to them. Everyone is suffering, not just us – also all the villages in the area.

Nablus car wash. January 2017. The people pictured have no connection to the testimony. Photo:  Gianluca Cecere
Nablus car wash. January 2017. The people pictured have no connection to the testimony. Photo:  Gianluca Cecere

‘Abd a-Rahman ‘Akubah, 26, is single and owns a car wash and carpet-cleaning business in Nablus. In a testimony he gave on 13 August 2017, he discussed the difficulties he encountered in running his business due to the water shortage:

From the beginning of this summer, I started suffering from the water shortage. Water is a vital commodity for my business. In the past, we got water in summer once every five days, but now we only get it every 12 to 15 days. That creates a real shortage, and sometimes I don’t have a single drop of water in my business. 

On ordinary days we service 25 to 30 cars. I charge 15 shekels for every carwash. I also earn a good income from cleaning carpets during the dry season, from May through November. My business needs large quantities of water – around three cubic meters a day. I have five water containers, each with a capacity of five cubic meters. Because of the situation, I bought three new containers a few days ago. That cost me 1,600 shekels (462 USD). I don’t have any money left to pay the rent, so I had to borrow from my friend. Now I have a real problem, because I have to repay him soon and I don’t have any way to get the money.

Not long ago, I called a merchant who supplies water in a tanker to place an order. He told me that they aren’t taking orders from carwash businesses, because they barely have enough for homes and restaurants.

In July I had to close the business for three days running because I didn’t have any water. I’ve incurred heavy losses because of the water shortage and I have a lot of commitments, such as rent, the loan, and so on.

ecause of the situation, when people come now, instead of asking if there’s a place in the line, they ask whether we have any water. Since the beginning of July, I haven’t accepted any carpets for cleaning because that takes a lot of water and I don’t have enough. Some customers were angry with me, because I’d promised to clean their carpets and I didn’t keep my word. But when I explained why, they understood, because they’re also suffering from the lack of water. They told me that they find it difficult to even find water for drinking. I guess we’ll have to adapt to this new reality. 

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