Water: Facts about Israeli and Palestinian Use, Agreements

Washington, Mar. 22 - Today is the 19th annual World Water Day, held to celebrate and observe the earth's limited water resources. Below is information on the issues facing the water supply in the West Bank:

Israel is in full compliance with the terms for water use and supply as outlined in the Oslo II peace process and delineated in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. In fact, Israel provides 30 percent more water to the Palestinians than required, with the total amount of water available to them exceeding agreed-upon terms.

When Israel first gained control of the West Bank in 1967, just four of the 708 Palestinian towns and villages could access running water. Now, 641 of those areas – and more than 96 percent of the Palestinian population – have access to running water. Israel’s network of pipesboosted water supply for Palestinians from 64 million cubic meters (MCM) per year to 120 MCM per year. Despite Palestinian claims, there is almost no difference in the amount of water Israelis and Palestinians use. As of 2012, per capita water useis 150 MCM for Israelis and 140 MCM for Palestinians.

The Palestinians have mismanaged their water supply, with water losses in the Palestinian network amounting to 33 percent of total water resources. The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) has failed to upgrade its system and use resources provided to them, ranging from wells authorized by Israel to international assistance.

The PWA also has failed to construct enough water treatment facilities; as a result, 63 percent of its wastewater flows untreated into streams and the West Bank countryside. The wastewater could be treated and reused for agricultural purposes to free up fresh water supplies for human consumption, as done in Israel.

Despite international donations for this purpose, the PWA is not moving forward on its its water treatment projects. Instead, it allows the continuation of a system in which the untreated effluent pollutes the environment and contaminates the wells and aquifers of the West Bank.

The PWA fails to treat 94 percent of the wastewater produced by Palestinian towns and village; by comparison, Israel recycles about 75 percent of its wastewater, primarily for agricultural uses.

If the Palestinians were to enact measures to prevent water losses, reuse treated water and utilize the Eastern Aquifer, problems of water access and distribution could be greatly eased.

The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, signed in September 1995,stipulated that Israel’s future water supply to the Palestinians would be 70-80 MCM per year, in addition to the 118 MCM they were using at the time they signed the agreement. The accord over water resources was to have lasted five years. However, both Israel and the Palestinians have continued to work within the parameters of the agreement.

At present, 96 percent of West Bank Palestinians have daily access to running water, whereas in neighboring countries such as Jordan, most towns don’t have such access.

Inefficiencies and violations in the Palestinian water network

  • As of 2012, Israel has approved the drilling of 71 wells for drinking and agricultural uses, as well as 22 observation wells. But the Palestinian Water Authority has yet to drill about half of them.
  • All water wells have to be approved by the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC). However, Palestinians have dug over 250 wells in violation of the 1995 agreement. The PA has supported such violations by connecting the unapproved wells to the electricity network.
  • The Palestinians illegally siphon water from the Israeli water provider, Mekorot, which supplies both Israelis and Palestinians. For this reason, there are water shortages in Hebron, Bani Naim, Beita and other Palestinian villages and communities.
  • The Palestinians have not developed the Eastern Aquifer despite the fact that the JWC has approved every request to drill wells in it.

Palestinian failure to build sewage facilities and ensuing problems

  • The Water Works Committee of the JWC approved laying hundreds of kilometers of water pipes throughout the West Bank and the construction of dozens of storage reservoirs and pumping stations.[19]
  • The Palestinians have failed to construct sewage treatment facilities as required of them in the Interim Agreement due to mismanagement, poor maintenance, hydrological errors and engineering mistakes. This has led to polluted water supplies and environmental degradation. For example, the Hebron stream, which flows toward the Be’er Sheva Valley, has now become polluted and nearby Palestinian and Israeli communities suffer from polluted water, bad odors, flies and mosquitoes. The Nablus stream which flows westward is also now polluted. The westward flow of this stream pollutes water inside Israel.
  • Many other streams have effectively become wastewater channels for Palestinian towns and cities and the untreated water subsequently pollutes the Mountain Aquifer which then affects water drawn from wells. This has led to the contamination and closure of a number of wells in the Bethlehem district, the Jerusalem district and some in the Jordan Valley as well.
  • Of all the wastewater that emanates from the West Bank, about 27 percent comes from the Israeli population and 73 percent from the Palestinian population.
  • Israel’s use of treated wastewater, its desalination activities, measures to reduce water losses in the water system and other water-saving procedures add 800 MCM per year to its water supply, amounting to 33 percent of Israel’s total water usage.
  • According to a report by the European Commission, Israel uses more treated wastewater effluents (on a percentage basis) per capita for agricultural irrigation and wastewater than any other country in the world. Israel is also second in overall wastewater reuse after California.

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