The water shortage is especially hard on residents of Palestinian villages that are not connected to a water network. According to data from 2008, some 191,238 Palestinians live in 134 villages without a running-water network. There are an additional 190,000 Palestinians who live in communities in which the water system is very limited. In the winter and fall, these residents collect rainfall in pits next to their homes and use the water for all their needs. In the spring and summer months, when the water in the pits runs out, the residents rely on water from nearby springs and on water they purchase from owners of private water-tankers.
There are also hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in communities with a central running-water network that supplies water irregularly in limited amounts and does not reach everyone in the community. For this reason, some Palestinian authorities supply water in the summer months on a rotation basis: each neighborhood receives water once every few days, for one day or several hours at a time. To supplement the water supplied, these residents have to buy water brought to them in privately owned water-tankers.
Per capita daily water consumption for household and municipal use in communities connected to a central running-water network in the West Bank is some 73 liters a day. In Israel, per capita daily use is 242 liters in towns and 211 liters in local councils, more than 3.5 times greater.
While the cost of water supplied by a central running-water network ranges from about one dollar per cubic meter, the water-tanker owners charge from about four to seven dollars per cubic meter, depending on the supplier and the location of the community. With 43 percent of the residents living under the poverty line and more than 19 percent of them unemployed, water purchases are a heavy financial burden for a substantial segment of the local population. According to research of the Palestinian Hydrology Group, there are many cases in which water purchases amount to ten percent of a family's expenses. During the summer, many families have especially great difficulty in meeting this burden, due to the severe economic crisis in the West Bank.
In light of the situation, many families will have to further reduce their water consumption, thus making it harder for them to meet their basic needs such as personal hygiene, housecleaning, dishwashing, and clothes washing. Research studies have shown that a shortage of water causes a decline in personal hygiene. This can lead to incidents of disease such as skin disorders, for example.
The principal reason for the water shortage in the West Bank is the unfair distribution of the water resources shared by Israel and the Palestinians. One of these resources is the Mountain Aquifer which is composed of a few reservoirs of groundwater that lie on both sides of the Green Line. Although this aquifer is the sole water source for residents of the West Bank, Israel uses eighty percent of it, leaving only the remaining twenty percent for the Palestinians. Israel refuses to alter this distribution or to allow the Palestinians access to alternate water sources such as the Jordan River basin, thus preventing the Palestinian Authority from either connecting additional communities to a running-water network, or from increasing the water supply in locations where a running-water network exists.
Another cause of the water shortage is the poor infrastructure that Israel handed over to the Palestinian Authority in 1995 in the framework of the Oslo Agreements. Since then, the Palestinian Authority has improved the infrastructure, but it still does not meet minimal standards. For example, on average, some 33 percent of the water carried through the pipes is lost by leakage. In addition, Mekorot, the Israeli water company, which supplies more than one-half of household and urban water consumption in the West Bank (the rest is supplied by Palestinian bodies), reduces the quantity of water sold to Palestinians in the summer months by 15 to 25 percent to meet consumption needs in Israel and in the settlements.
Another phenomenon that aggravates the shortage in some areas of the West Bank is the practice of Palestinian farmers illegally tapping into water pipes leading to Palestinian communities. The southern West Bank village of Bani Na'im, for example, lost almost all the water supplied to it by Mekorot in the summer of 2007 due to this practice. Most of the illegal taps take place in Area C, in which Israel is responsible for law enforcement. However, security officials have refrained from taking sufficient action to apprehend the thieves. Palestinian police officials in Hebron District informed B'Tselem that they had contacted the Civil Administration a number of times to coordinate the entry of Palestinian police to Area C to handle the problem, but their requests were denied.
Israel's policy regarding water supply in the West Bank is illegal and discriminates on racial grounds. It flagrantly breaches international law which requires Israel to ensure proper living conditions for the local population and to respect the Palestinians' human rights, including the right to receive a sufficient quantity of water to meet their basic needs.
For statistics and a full list of villages which are not connected to a water network, click here.