Palestine 1 – access to water: a basic human right

Elizabeth Way has drawn our attention to the subject of the Palestinian water supply.

A BBC report said that Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are dependent on scarce resources controlled by Israel and a World Bank report says that Israelis use about four times as much water as people in the West Bank and Gaza.

In Gaza 150,000 Palestinians have no access to tap water at all, a report in the Palestine Telegraph says and have to rely on irregular water supplies by lorry.

Problems are not only a poor daily supply but after several wells were destroyed during an Israeli offensive, severe damage to two wastewater treatment plants affected water quality. This has not been repaired as only three out of 80 trucks with spare parts and pipes for the water system have been allowed to enter Gaza.

The Palestine Monitor’s Water Fact Sheet gives wealth of figures on the issue and makes the following statements:

  • Israel does not allow new wells to be drilled by Palestinians and has confiscated many wells for Israeli use. Israel sets quotas on how much water can be drawn by Palestinians from existing wells.
  • When supplies of water are low in the summer months, the Israeli water company Mekorot closes the valves which supply Palestinian towns and villages so as not to affect Israeli supplies.
  • During the war of 1967, 140 Palestinian wells in the Jordan Valley were destroyed to divert water through Israel’s National Water Carrier. Palestinians were allowed to dig only 13 wells between 1967 and 1996.
  • The Gaza strip wells are being increasingly infiltrated by salty sea water because Israel is over-pumping the groundwater. UN scientists estimate that Gaza will have no drinkable water within fifteen years.
  • The main spring in the Palestinian village of Yanoun suffers damages and contamination inflicted by illegal Israeli settlers.
  • In Madama village 50km north of Jerusalem settlers from Yizhar settlement have repeatedly vandalized the villager’s only source of water.Three villagers have been attacked by settlers while trying to repair the water source.
  • Constant settler attacks on the community of Yanoun, Nablus governorate, located next to the Itamar settlement, peaked in October 2002 when masked settlers charged into the village with dogs and caused significant damage to the water network, several roof tanks, and the local spring, which is considered to be the main source of water for the community. A water reservoir, located in the village of Attil, Tulkarem district, is isolated by the Wall from the community it serves.

  • Many of the most important underground wellsprings in the West Bank are located just to the east of the Green Line dividing Israel from Palestine. Israel has built the Wall not only to annex land but also to annex many of these wells in order to divert water to Israel and illegal West Bank settlements.
  • Some of the largest Israeli settlements (such as Ariel and Qedumin) are built over the Western mountain aquifer, directly in the middle of the northern West Bank agricultural districts, and this is exactly where the wall cuts deepest into Palestinian territory to surround and annex this vital water source.
  • The building of the Wall has caused the village of Falamya in Qalqiliya district to lose its main source of water. In Jayyous, a village near Falamya, all of its seven water wells have been annexed or destroyed by the Apartheid Wall.
  • In the West Bank, around 50 groundwater wells and over 200 cisterns have been destroyed or isolated from their owners by the Wall. This water was used for domestic and agricultural needs by over 122,000 people.
  • In 2003, the losses incurred by Palestinian farmers due to the Wall diverting water resources has been 2,200 tons of olive oil, 50,000 tons of fruit, and 100,000 tons of vegetables.
  • The Wall is obstructing many water run-off flows in the Qalqiliya region that normally divert water to prevent flooding. During heavy rains in February 2005, Israeli soldiers refused to open drainage pipes in Qalqiliya, which led to heavy flood damage to crops and homes there. 

Update: 3 February 2011

The Palestine Monitor

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Maxwell Gaylard, publicly denounced Israel’s systematic destruction of rainwater collection devices, such as water cisterns, throughout the West Bank.

Mr. Gaylard remarked on 1 February 2011, “It is difficult to understand the reasoning behind the destruction of basic rain water collection systems, some of them very old, which serve marginalized rural and herder Palestinian communities where water is already scarce and where drought is an ever-present threat.”

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) documented that in 2010 Israel demolished 27 water cisterns and other rainwater collection systems in the West Bank. Moreover, OCHA recorded that 15 water springs that connect to the Mountain Aquifer, the sole source of water available to Palestinians in the West Bank, were also destroyed. Israel takes more than 80% of water collected by the aquifer, leaving Palestinians with less than 20%.

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