As wa­ter dries up, West Bank vil­lage thirsts for a less pre­car­i­ous sup­ply Rain­fall de­creases and ground­wa­ter lev­els fall

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

A moun­tain­ous Pales­tinian com­mu­nity in the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied West Bank, Al Jab’a dif­fers in many ways from sur­round­ing Is­raeli set­tle­ments but it shares one worry with its neigh­bors - a short­age of wa­ter. In the last few decades the West Bank has seen rain­fall de­crease and ground­wa­ter lev­els fall with drought ex­pected to be­come “more fre­quent (and) more in­tense”, ac­cord­ing to a 2012 United Na­tions En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram (UNEP) re­port. Res­i­dents of Al Jab’a, who once had to walk for hours daily to fetch wa­ter, do have lim­ited ac­cess to Is­raeli wa­ter sup­plies in their con­crete homes due to a reser­voir, pipe­line and a pump built in 2013 by an Ital­ian non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion.

But the wa­ter pro­vided is not enough, ac­cord­ing to fam­i­lies in Al Jab’a, a vil­lage of about 150 houses 12 km south­west of Beth­le­hem. They also fear their sys­tem could be de­mol­ished as it was not of­fi­cially ap­proved. “Be­fore, we had to walk many times a day to the nearby springs to fill our bot­tles and buck­ets,” said Omar Musa, 18, who lives with his par­ents and five si­b­lings near the reser­voir in a house atop a hill.

“I was happy when I knew I would have wa­ter at home.” He es­ti­mated that his fam­ily saves about six hours a day by not hav­ing to fetch wa­ter for their use, crops and live­stock.

But numer­ous ru­ral and Be­douin com­mu­ni­ties in the West Bank are not con­nected to a net­work run by Is­rael’s na­tional wa­ter com­pany, Meko­rot, which is re­spon­si­ble for sup­ply­ing wa­ter to Pales­tini­ans in the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. In Al Jab’a, only 10 per­cent of homes were part of the Meko­rot dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem un­til the pipes and reser­voir com­pleted in 2013 ex­tended the net­work to the re­main­ing house­holds. Wa­ter piped by Meko­rot is pumped up the hill to be stored in the reser­voir.

But this has not com­pletely re­solved the com­mu­nity’s wa­ter prob­lems. Res­i­dents say the Meko­rot sys­tem sup­plies wa­ter only in­ter­mit­tently and at low pres­sure. When sup­plies flow, fam­i­lies must hurry to store as much as they can. In ad­di­tion, res­i­dents like Musa and his fam­ily fear the reser­voir could be de­mol­ished by the Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties be­cause, like many of their homes, the struc­ture was built with­out an of­fi­cial per­mit.

Con­struc­tion by Pales­tini­ans is for­bid­den in Area C, a des­ig­na­tion cov­er­ing about 60 per­cent of the West Bank, in­clud­ing Al Jab’a. Be­tween 2010 and 2014 only 1.5 per­cent of re­quests for build­ing per­mits in Area C were ap­proved, ac­cord­ing to the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (OCHA). An ap­pli­ca­tion for a per­mit for the Al Jab’a reser­voir by GVC, the Ital­ian de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion that built it in part­ner­ship with UNICEF, was turned down, GVC said. Ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties, is­su­ing de­mo­li­tion or­ders for struc­tures built with­out per­mis­sion is a le­git­i­mate mea­sure, a 2015 OCHA re­port notes.

Al­though only one-fifth of the 14,000 de­mo­li­tion or­ders is­sued in Area C since 1988 have been car­ried out, ac­cord­ing to OCHA, the un­cer­tainty leaves res­i­dents wor­ried for the safety of their homes and their wa­ter sup­ply. Af­ter the 1967 war in which Is­rael ac­quired the West Bank, Is­rael im­posed re­stric­tions on well drilling and con­struct­ing dis­tri­bu­tion net­works, which has left a quar­ter of Pales­tini­ans with­out piped wa­ter, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Pales­tinian Aca­demic So­ci­ety for the Study of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs.

An as­sess­ment by UNICEF in 2015 showed that 400,000 Pales­tini­ans from 1.7 mil­lion liv­ing in the West Bank were in need of im­proved wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene ser­vices. The UN En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram said in a re­port that Is­rael uses the ma­jor­ity of the wa­ter re­sources avail­able in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Is­rael, how­ever, points out that it pro­vides the Pales­tini­ans with dou­ble the 30 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of wa­ter an­nu­ally that was agreed to in the 1995 Oslo ac­cords.

Bring back cis­terns?

Gre­gor von Medeazza, chief of the wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and hy­giene pro­gramme at UNICEF in East Jerusalem, said wa­ter re­mains a per­sis­tent sore point be­tween Is­rael and Pales­tinian com­mu­ni­ties in the West Bank. “Wa­ter should be a source of col­lab­o­ra­tion and should bring peo­ple to­gether,” he said. “At the end of the day, they all share the same wa­ter re­sources.” Von Medeazza said that UNICEF is con­cerned about en­sur­ing mea­sures are in place to use wa­ter care­fully and help com­mu­ni­ties adapt in the face of grow­ing scarcity.

“It means hav­ing ra­tio­nal use of (the) wa­ter avail­able and mak­ing sure there is no wast­ing of wa­ter,” he said. With cli­mate change bring­ing more vari­able rain­fall, “it is also im­por­tant to em­pha­sise that there is a ques­tion of ac­ces­si­bil­ity and hu­man right to a min­i­mum amount of wa­ter”, he said. Apart from build­ing reser­voirs, Von Medeazza sug­gests re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing around 300 an­cient cis­terns - un­der­ground stor­age tanks dat­ing from Ro­man times that once col­lected wa­ter in the rainy sea­son. These have the po­ten­tial to be used to­day and would be a cost-ef­fec­tive mea­sure, he said.

Around 80 such cis­terns have been re­stored so far by a coali­tion of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions. “The long-term vi­sion is to in­crease the cur­rent ac­cess (to wa­ter) of peo­ple liv­ing in re­mote places,” Von Medeazza said. “We have the tech­ni­cal so­lu­tions to ex­tend ser­vices and con­nect com­mu­ni­ties. What we need is fur­ther sup­port from all par­ties (Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans) for this to hap­pen.” For his part, Musa in Al Jab’a re­mains wor­ried but res­o­lute. “We are re­ally afraid of los­ing our reser­voir,” he said. But “we are not leav­ing our house nor our com­mu­nity”. —Reuters

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