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B'Tselem report indicates most West Bank wastewater is improperly treated, endangering the Mountain Aquifer

In its report Foul Play: Neglect of Wastewater Treatment in the West Bank, published today (Sunday, 28.06.2009), Israeli human rights group B'Tselem warns about the danger inherent in neglecting wastewater treatment in the West Bank. The report criticizes both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for their failures, which have harmed the health and future water supply of all residents of Israel and the West Bank.

Some 2.8 million people currently live in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The wastewater of two million of them - from settlements, the city of Jerusalem, and Palestinian towns and villages - is not treated. The prolonged neglect has created various hazards and environmental nuisances throughout the West Bank and is liable to pollute the Mountain Aquifer, the main water source of Israelis and Palestinians.

Since the beginning of the settlement enterprise, Israel has not constructed advanced regional wastewater treatment plants in the West Bank settlements as it has done inside Israel. Only 81 of the 121 settlements are connected to wastewater treatment facilities, and even these are outdated, frequently malfunction and shut down, and are not able to treat the necessary amount of sewage. Of the 17.5 million cubic meters of wastewater created annually by the settlements, 5.5 mcm flow as raw sewage into West Bank streams and riverbeds. The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection has failed to take serious enforcement actions against settlements.

The Jerusalem Municipality produces 17.5 mcm of wastewater that flows eastward into the West Bank. Of this amount, 10.2 mcm are raw sewage that flows into the Kidron Stream Basin, in what the Ministry of Environmental Protection refers to as the “largest sewage nuisance in Israel.” Over the years, the Jerusalem Municipality has proposed a few solutions for treating this wastewater, but none have been implemented. These solutions require the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority, which has refused, claiming that its cooperation would legitimate Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem.

Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank produce 56 mcm of wastewater annually, 62 percent of all wastewater in the West Bank. Some 90-95 percent of Palestinian wastewater is not treated at all, and only one Palestinian wastewater treatment plant is currently functioning. The lack of infrastructure for treating Palestinian wastewater results from a number of factors: first, the Israeli authorities have delayed approving plans for building treatment plants, in some cases for more than a decade. In addition, Israel attempted to force the Palestinian Authority to connect settlements to the planned treatment plants, and the PA rejects this demand for political reasons. Additionally, Israel forced Palestinians to employ treatment standards more advanced than those generally used in Israel, which increase the cost of plant construction. A further reason is reduction in international donor funding for these projects.

The first victims of the neglect of wastewater treatment are Palestinians, primarily residents of small towns and villages, who depend on water from natural sources - springs and wells - whose pollution causes disease and harms crops. Because settlements are generally at higher altitudes, their untreated wastewater flows down to nearby Palestinian communities.

In the report's conclusions, B'Tselem demands that Israel treat all settlement wastewater in accordance with the treatment standards applying in Israel, and that the authorities enforce the law on polluting settlements. B'Tselem further demands that the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority cooperate in advancing Palestinian wastewater treatment projects, even if this necessitates facilities that will treat both Palestinian and settlement wastewater.