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22.3.09: World Water Day – 22 March – waters that cross borders

The UN's sixteenth World Water Day, being commemorated today, is dedicated to cross-border waters. Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank have two trans-border water systems. One is the aboveground Jordan water basin, which Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon also share.  Israel prevents Palestinians any access to this water reservoir. The other is the Mountain Aquifer underground water system. The Mountain Aquifer, which crosses the Israeli and Palestinian borders, is the primary, largest, and highest quality water source for Israelis and Palestinians, providing 600 million cubic meters of water a year. Israel uses eighty percent of the output for its needs and allocates the remainder to the Palestinians.

Laundry without running water, al-Maliah Village, Tubas District. Photo: Atef Abu a-Rub, 23  March 2009
Doing laundry without running water, al-Maliah Village, Tubas District. Photo: Atef Abu a-Rub, 23  March 2009

Discriminatory and unfair division of the shared water sources creates a chronic water shortage in the West Bank. Average per capita daily water consumption of Palestinians in the West Bank is two-thirds of the amount recommended by the World Health Organization. Due to the shortage, many Palestinians have to buy water from tankers at three to six times higher than regular prices, forcing poor families to spend up to one-fifth of their income on water, compared to the slightly more than one percent that average-income Israeli families spend on water.

Avg. Daily Water Needed per Person in liters

* Recomende Miniumum according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 

The water shortage in the West Bank is aggravated in drought years, as occurred last year, or in arid years, like this year. The water shortage is not felt in household use or allocation of water to residents of Israel or to settlers in the West Bank.

An extreme example of the inequality is seen in the average daily per capita water consumption of the 396 settlers living in Pnei Hever, in Hebron District (194 liters), compared to the figure for the 70,000 Palestinians living in the eight kilometers away in the town of Yatta (27 liters).

Precentage of monthly expanditure on water per family

Cost of Ten cubic meters per Household

Monthly Expenditure on WaterCost of	Ten cubic meters per Household

The water shortage in the West Bank also results from the neglect in building water infrastructure and the handling of sewage in the West Bank during the course of the Israeli occupation. Even after establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and transfer of the responsibility for the Palestinian water economy into the hands of the Palestinians, Israel, which currently controls sixty percent of the land area of the West Bank, makes it difficult for the Palestinian Authority to carry out plans to build and improve water infrastructure. In 2008, 227,500 Palestinians, in 220 towns and villages were not connected to a water network. Another 190,000 Palestinians live in towns and villages in which a water network covered only part of the community. The old infrastructure results in the loss of two-thirds of the water running through the network, three times the average water loss in water networks in Israel. The lack of regular treatment of most Palestinian sewage in the West Bank prevents purification and use for agricultural irrigation needs.

The discriminatory and unfair division of shared water sources violates the right of Palestinians to water, sanitation, and health. In addition, Israel's policy violates the rights of Palestinians to gain a livelihood, by preventing development of the agricultural sector, one of the most important branches of the Palestinian economy.

More statistics:

  • Average daily use for flushing toilets in Israel: 55-60 liters
  • Average daily use for taking showers in Israel: 55-60 liters.

  • Average daily per capita water consumption for the 48,000 residents of Tubas District, in the northeastern West Bank, is 30 liters.
  • Average daily per capita water consumption for the 175 settlers in Beka'ot, in the Jordan Valley, twelve kilometers southeast of Tubas, is 401 liters.

  • Average daily per capita water consumption for the 180,000 residents of Bethlehem District, south of Jerusalem, is 71 liters
  • Average daily per capita water consumption for the 7,714 residents of the Efrat settlement, which lies 6.5 kilometers east of Bethlehem, consume an average of 217 liters.

Yatta Municipality; The Israel Water Authority, "Water allocations for 2008 for administrative area - in thousands of cubic meters, household water flow, water tariffs in local authorities and water and sewage corporations"; Palestinian Water Authority; Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Local Authorities in Israel 2006; Palestinian Hydrology Group," Water for Life: The Dilemma of Development Under Occupation", "2006"; Wikipedia.