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Occupation: Water Crisis

The Occupation
   Taking Control of Land
   Dispossession, Exploitation
   Splitting the West Bank
   Restriction of Movement
      Checkpoints, Closed Rds

   Imposition of Siege
   Beatings & Abuse
   Home Demolitions
   Destruction of olive trees
   Medical Care
   Water Crisis

The Settlements
The Settlements, p2
   Settlers' Violence
   Settlers' Violence, p2

The Separation Wall
Israel's citizens, like those of developed countries worldwide, benefit year-round from unlimited running water to meet their household needs. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians suffer from a severe water shortage throughout the summer.

This shortage of water affects every function that water plays in human life: drinking, bathing, cleaning, and watering of crops and animals.

The shortage drastically affects the residents' health and economic well-being. The shortage of drinking water can cause dehydration and the inability to maintain proper hygiene and thus lead to illness. Failure to water crops and animals affects the livelihood of the residents.

The water shortage violates the basic human rights of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories such as the right to health, to adequate housing, to equality, and to benefit from their natural resources. This harm results from Israeli policy, in effect since 1967, based on an unfair division of resources shared by Israel and the Palestinians.

The shared water sources and the control over them

Israel and the Palestinians share two main water sources. The first is the Mountain Aquifer, a system extending over approximately 130 Km, from Mount Carmel in the north to Beersheva in the south. The aquifer is some 35 Km wide - from the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley on the east, to the eastern border of the coastal strip on the west. The aquifer is fed by rain that falls mostly on the mountains of the West Bank and seeps into it. The water then flows eastward and westward to the reservoir areas, from where it is drawn by wells. This source supplies about one-quarter of the water needs of Israel and the Israeli settlements and almost all the running water that Palestinians in the West Bank receive.

The second joint source of water, according to international law, is the upper Jordan River and its tributaries: the Sea of Galilee, the Yarmuh, and the lower Jordan River . Although only the Jordan River is shared geographically, the water Israel draws from the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River sources directly affects the amount of water in the river itself. This source supplies approximately one-third of Israel 's water needs, and also serves Jordan , Syria , and Lebanon . Palestinians do not receive any water from this source.

Demand for water by Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been increasing since the 1920s. The main reason for the increase is, in addition to natural population growth, the increased number of homes connected to a central water network. The demand for water in the Occupied Territories increased at a greater rate since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 because of the relative increase in the Palestinian standard of living following integration of the economies of the Occupied Territories and Israel .

However, Israel 's tight control of the water sector in the Occupied Territories prevented development that would enable the water sector to meet Palestinians' increasing demand for water. Israel instituted restrictions and prohibitions that had not existed under Jordanian and Egyptian control. These restrictions and prohibitions are a principal reason for the water shortage and the resultant water crisis.

Israel 's water policy in the Occupied Territories has benefited Israel in two primary ways:

   1. Preservation of the unequal division of the shared groundwater in the West Bank 's Western Aquifer and Northern Aquifer. This division was created prior to the occupation, a result of the gap between economic and technological development in Israel as opposed to the West Bank . However, the gap would have likely diminished had Israel not prevented it.

   2. Utilization of new water sources, to which Israel had no access prior to 1967, such as the Eastern Aquifer (in the West Bank ) and the Gaza Aquifer, primarily to benefit Israeli settlements established in those areas.

For residents of the Occupied Territories, the primary result of the change in the law and transfer of powers over the water sector to Israeli bodies was the drastic restriction on drilling new wells to meet their water needs. According to military orders, drilling a well required obtaining a permit, which entailed a lengthy and complicated bureaucratic process. The vast majority of applications submitted during the occupation were denied. The few that were granted were solely for domestic use, and were less than the number of wells that, after 1967, had ceased to be used due to improper maintenance or because they had dried up.

It should be emphasized that the legal and institutional changes that Israel instituted in the water sector in the Occupied Territories are not intrinsically unacceptable. They conformed to the approach taken in Israel 's water sector and could, in principle, have led to a more efficient supply of water to the Palestinians. However, Israel utilized these changes to exclusively promote Israeli interests, almost completely ignoring the needs of the Palestinian population, which was left to face a growing water shortage.

The water crisis in the Occupied Territories results not only from the restrictions Israel has placed on Palestinian residents, but also from Israel's minimal investment in water infrastructure. The neglect in infrastructure is conspicuous in two areas: construction of infrastructure to connect rural communities to a running-water network, and maintenance of the existing networks in order to prevent loss of water. When the Interim Agreement was signed, 20 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank were not connected to a running-water network. According to data from 2008, 8.6 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank (191,000 persons) live in communities that are not connected to a running-water system. Another 190,000 live in communities in which the water supplied by the system is limited and does not reach all residential areas. Leakage from pipes due to defective maintenance and old infrastructure result in the loss of one-third of the amount of the water supplied in the West Bank.

The gap in water consumption between Palestinians and Israelis

The discrimination in utilization of the resources shared by Israel and the Palestinian Authority is clearly reflected in the figures on water consumption by each population. Daily per capita water consumption in the West Bank for domestic, urban, and industrial use is some 73 liters. In areas in the northern West Bank, consumption is much lower. In 2008, per capita daily consumption was 44 liters in the Jenin area and 37 liters in the Tubas area.

There is a huge disparity between Israeli and Palestinian consumption. Per capita water consumption in Israeli towns is 242 liters and in local councils, 211 liters. In other words, per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank.

The World Health Organization and the United States Agency for International Development recommend 100 liters of water per capita per day as the minimum quantity for basic consumption. This amount includes, in addition to domestic use, consumption in hospitals, schools, businesses, and other public institutions. Palestinian daily consumption is one-third less than the recommended quantity.

Villages not connected to a water network

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.

Water shortage in Anin, June 2006

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.

See sources for all topics in this section, The Occupation.