In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, water is not treated as a human right. It is a political tool, historically disputed in agreements between Israel and Palestine that is still part of the ongoing conflict. In a notoriously water scarce region, these facts create misery, anger and institutional gridlocks.
How does this affect citizens in the West Bank, which is located over the Mountain Aquifer and is divided into 3 parts (see picture)? The problem is not availability – the aquifer carries enough water to supply the entire West Bank population. Although being slowly depleted, this stems mainly from excessive withdrawals on the Israeli side, and diminishing quality through the absence of widespread sewer systems (only 30% of the population has access to sewers, the majority of wastewater is disposed in cesspits, which themselves have questionable efficiency [pdf]). The main problems are ineffective water policies.
Admittedly, the starting point is uncomfortable: 35% of water is Non-Revenue (NRW), that means it leaks from damaged pipes. Water distributed by the Palestinian Authority is often delivered by Israel, which means they have power to close the taps. In some regions during summer, the pipes open only once per 14 days. When this runs out, “trucked” water is available [pdf] at high prices. Projects to improve water infrastructure in the West Bank have to pass through the Israeli-Palestinian Joint Water Committee (JWC), in which Israel has a veto. 100% of Israeli projects in the West Bank were passed, as opposed to 56% of Palestinian ones. Infrastructure created without permits is destroyed. Water utilities are decentralized, although under supervision of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), and the service providers are unable to cover operating costs with revenues [pdf] and are therefore dependent on subsidies.
All this is happening on top of the increasing depletion of the Mountain Aquifer, which still provides 95% of water for Palestinians in the West Bank.
The bleak outlook offers many opportunities for improvement. Removing the institutional gridlock that legally prevents Palestinians from managing their own water is a necessary first step. Of course, this depends mainly on the political situation, but collaborating with one of the world’s leading countries in water expertise holds many promises. Additional solutions would be reallocation of financial resources, and creation of larger-scale infrastructure, with a focus on wastewater treatment to “recycle” water in a notoriously water scarce region.
Bottom Line: A region in scarcity, a population in distress – this is the time for water managers to step in and work together on solutions that provide a basis of development for a long-neglected people.
* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂