Part I: ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ – The European Union and the Human Right to Water in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories

pouring water

Umm Mohammad from the Tuba community in the upper hills of Samaria, northern West Bank, March 22nd 2013. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Water trickles into every aspect of our lives. Drinking water is essential for the proper functioning of the human body. We also need water to wash ourselves, our clothes, and our homes. Water is used for cooking, for irrigating crops, for keeping livestock alive, and for manufacturing and industry. This multi-functional resource is essential to everyday survival. Beyond mere survival, the United Nations declared in 2010 that access to water is ‘indispensable for living a life of human dignity’.

Water in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

In the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), lack of access to clean, safe, and adequate water is a longstanding problem. Water is a point of such contention in the OPT that it is considered a ‘final status’ issue in the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In the twenty years that have elapsed since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords, the water situation for Palestinians has worsened rather than improved. Access to water is particularly difficult in Area C of the West Bank.

There are a number of important elements which define the current water problems faced Palestinians in the OPT:

1.       Access to water resources for Palestinians is restricted by Israel, which controls the rich Mountain Aquifer, the Jordan River, and a multitude of small springs. Israel uses more than 80% of water from the Mountain Aquifer, which is the only source of underground water in the OPT. In addition, Palestinians are denied any access to the surface water available from the Jordan River. During the summer months, water shortages are exacerbated by drought. However, the lack of access to water for Palestinians arises primarily from discriminatory Israeli policies.

2.   The Israeli monopoly on water in the OPT leaves Palestinians with extremely limited water resources. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a daily water consumption of 100 litres per capita. The average Palestinian consumes 70 litres per day, although consumption can be even lower. For example, in the West Bank district of Tubas, the average consumption of water is just 30 litres per person per day.

3.      In stark contrast, the average Israeli water consumption is 300 litres per person per day. In some Israeli settlements, daily consumption can be as high as 700 litres per capita. According to Amnesty International, in 2009 the 450,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank used as much or more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians.

4.  To make up the shortfall, Palestinians are heavily dependent on Israel for water, which Israel’s national water company ‘Mekorot’ extracts from the Mountain Aquifer and sells at high cost although in insufficient quantities. Palestinian coping strategies such as shallow wells and rain water butts are frequently demolished by the Israeli military or vandalised by settlers. As a result some Palestinian families are forced to spend up to a quarter of their income on water.

5.   In the West Bank, only 31% of Palestinians are connected to the sewage network, with only one waste water treatment plant in use. Israel has been refusing to grant permits and indefinitely suspending the construction and operation of sanitation networks and wastewater treatment facilities. Lack of sewerage also means that water sources are at risk of pollution.

The second part of this blog, ‘Down the Drain: The Obstruction of European-Funded Water Projects’ will discuss the hindrance of European-funded water projects in the OPT, and the lack of coordinated response by the European Union and its member states to the damage being inflicted by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

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About Rebecca Viney-Wood

Rebecca joined QCEA as a Programme Assistant in September 2013.

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