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Where the water taps run dry

In the bitter struggle between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the fight for natural resources has been highlighted and has come to the fore. The Israeli Government has gained control of the water supply in the occupied territories and this has been a catalyst for further contention between the two often strongly divided sides.

Going on a range of different estimates, somewhere in the range of 80 per cent and 85 per cent of groundwater in the West Bank is utilised either by Israeli settlers or ends up by flowing into Israel itself. The so called Coastal Aquifer is the only source of water to be had in the Gaza Strip on the other hand. It flows beneath the coast of Israel, with Gaza downstream at the finishing point of the basin.

The history of the Israeli control of the water supply has its origins in the Israeli-Arab war in the late 1960s. In November 1967 the government of Israel issued Military Order 158, in which it was declared that Palestinians were not allowed to build any new water installation without initially gaining a permit from the Israeli military. Ever since, the extraction of water from any new source or the construction of any new water infrastructure would demand obtaining permits from Israel, which are fairly difficult to get. The Palestinians, who live under the military occupation of their neighbours, continue to endure the harsh consequences of this decree up to the present day. They are not able to drill new water wells, install pumps or even deepen wells that already exist, in addition to not being able to have access to the Jordan River and fresh water springs.

Palestinian children fill bottles with water from a public tap in Khan Younis due to water shortages (file pic) ( Getty Images ) Photo Credit The Independent

Israel also has control of the gathering of rain water in most of the West Bank, and any rainwater harvesting cisterns which belong to the Palestinian communities are quite often got rid of by the Israeli army. The end result is that in the region of 80 Palestinian communities in rural occupied West Bank have absolutely no access to running water, according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Sometimes in the towns and villages which have a connection to a water network, the taps are often dry.

Another way the Israeli authorities restrict the access Palestinians have to water is by refusing them or restricting their access to great parts of the West Bank itself. Large parts of the West Bank have been declared “closed military areas”, which the Palestinians are not allowed to enter, as they are near to Israeli settlements, near to roads used by Israeli settlers themselves, or used for training by the Israeli military or are protected nature reserves.

In Gaza on the other hand, around 90 to 95 per cent of the water supply is contaminated and totally unfit for human consumption. Israel prohibits water to be transferred from the West Bank to Gaza, and the latter’s only fresh water resource, the so called Coastal Aquifer, is not enough for the needs of the greater population and is all the time being depleted by over-extraction and being polluted by sewage and seawater infiltration.

The United Nations has come into the picture to try to ease the woes of the locals in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Largely down to an emergency water supply and rehabilitation programme in the Gaza Strip, the inhabitants are experiencing a big improvement in the water supply which manages to reach their homes. In the city of Rafah, a 3,000-cubic-metre water tank has eased the quality of life of 50 percent of the city’s population of 102,000. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has finished more than 200 water supply and sanitation projects in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the money for which came from the government of Japan and amounted to $5.4 million.

Khirbet Al Halawah, a village south of Hebron. The village is not connected to water mains and the average water consumption is twenty litres per person per day – far less than the 100 litres per person per day recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) © Gianluca Cecere. Source lifegate

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes on a pace without any sign of a conclusion or a workable peace deal, the battle over the natural resources in the region is key to both sides in the struggle. With the help of outside agencies such as the United Nations, and also the aid from the government in Tokyo, the situation has been alleviated somewhat for those striving to live and earn a living in the area.

Peace Over War