Just How Much Do Palestinians Rely on Israel for Water?

Israeli households use three times as much water as Palestinian ones do; but figure that caused Knesset uproar expresses just one aspect of a large discrepancy in access, development and use of resources.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Israelis - including those in the settlements - use three times as much water a day in their households as West Bank Palestinians do, according to figures provided by Palestinians and aid organizations. That is just one aspect of the large discrepancy between Israelis and Palestinians in access, development and use of water resources -- a discrepancy that has only increased since the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Some 113,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, in some 70 villages and communities, are still not connected to the water network and are dependent on water transported in tanker trucks, which raises the price significantly. In many of these communities, which are extremely poor, the families are forced to spend up to 40 percent of their income on this basic commodity. In these communities in Area C (under exclusive Israeli control) the average water consumption per day is about 20 liters per capita. Often a pipe of Israel’s Mekorot water company that reaches the settlements runs nearby, but the Palestinians are not allowed to connect to it.

In most areas of the West Bank the water supply in the summer is sporadic, with municipalities required to stagger the water supply between neighborhoods. In various cities, especially in the southern West Bank, there is no running water in houses for weeks and even months at a time. Consequently, according to estimates of international aid organizations, almost a million Palestinians do not reach the minimal average daily usage of 60 liters, set by the World Health Organization. On average Palestinians use 73 liters of water a day -- just a third the amount consumed by Israelis.

The Oslo Accords determined that the water system in the Gaza Strip would be independent and self-contained, separate from the rest of Israel and the territories. That system relies only on the aquifer within Gaza’s borders without taking into account population growth. That is why the Gaza Strip suffers from accumulated overpumping of water and a drop in the level of the groundwater. Some 90 percent of the water used in Gaza is not fit for drinking because of salinity and the infiltration of sewage.

The Oslo Accords left full control of the water sources in the West Bank in Israel’s hands. The agreement was intended to allow the Palestinians to expand their water system by drilling independent wells. According to it, the Palestinian Authority is permitted to produce 118 million cubic meters of water a year from the water sources in the West Bank -- based on a calculation of Palestinian water usage from 20 years ago. Israel is allowed to use 483 million cubic meters a year.

But since 1995, instead of the Palestinians increasing the amount of water they produce, the figure actually dropped by 20 million cubic meters a year, to just 86.9 million, according to the Palestinian Water Authority. The reasons for this include: drought, dried up springs, Israel’s refusal to allow the rehabilitation of agricultural wells, and the fact that new drilling does not compensate for the old wells used when the area was under Jordanian control.

File photo: Gaza children drinking from a broken pipe.Credit: Reuters

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