The water crisis in the West Bank and Gaza is largely overshadowed by the overall political tension between Palestine and Israel. However, the ever-growing water conflict between the two sides is a major impediment to reaching a just and peaceful resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict, and an essential component for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Ever since the Nakbah in 1948 “Day of Catastrophe” in Arabic, Israel has sought to control the main sources of water, and after the 1967 war Israel managed to control all of the major water sources it shares with Palestine and other neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. These sources include the Jordan River, Yarmouk River and the underground water reservoirs underneath the West Bank.
Despite controlling 100% of the water flowing from the Jordan River, the injustice is further highlighted with Israel using 85% of the water from the aquifers within West Bank territory, and Palestinians only receiving 118 million cubic meters (15%). The discrimination in utilization of the resources is evident with Palestinian farms relying on inconsistent rainwater to irrigate their crops, and with Israeli settlement farms using state of the art irrigation systems. Though theoretically Palestinians could drill more wells to help sustain their crops, they are forbidden to do so without acquiring permits from the Israeli military. These permits are difficult, if not impossible to obtain forcing Palestinians to rely on Israeli authorities for access to their own water. This has lead to the per capita water consumption of the West bank to be approximately 73 liters, where as Israel’s per capita water consumption is approximately 242 liters. In other words, per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank.
Responding to reports reflecting the injustice in water resource distribution, the Israeli government states that it has responded to the needs of the Palestinians and has increased the quantity of water provided to them far beyond that specified in the Interim Agreement. However, what it fails to mention is that 60% of the water it provides is sold to the Palestinians at inflated prices, which most civilians cannot afford. Therefore, one can conclude that the problem at hand is not the lack of water in the region, but the uneven distribution of water resources between Palestine and Israel.
Since the blockade imposed on Gaza in 2006, it has been dealing with constant raids, bombardment, and attacks from the Israeli army, hindering any kind of development that might occur. One of the greatest sectors affected by the constant raids and bombardment is the water and sanitation sector. During the bombardment and ground excursions, water and sewage pipes are often damaged leaving the area without proper sanitation and without a reliable water source. This has a large effect on Gaza’s only source of water: The Coastal Aquifer underneath the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Reports published by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that 95% of this water is unfit for consumption due to the lack of proper sanitation, and that Gaza could become unlivable as early as the year 2016. However, the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank have recently approved $6.4 million and $11.14 million respectively for the development of the Gazan water and sewage infrastructure, in an attempt to improve the highly damaged sanitation facilities and the highly contaminated water supply.
Such donations and contributions provide a large boost to better the livelihood of the Palestinians but do not represent a sustainable solution to the problems at hand. The first problem requiring immediate attention is the unjust distribution in water resource use. In order for there to be a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Palestine and Israel, there must be an equal distribution in water resource use between both parties allowing each enough water for development and basic human needs.
The second problem is the inability to create a Palestinian community. The imposed blockade on Gaza and the construction of the “separation barrier” that surrounds the West Bank give Israel full control over the resources entering and exiting the Palestinian territories. This greatly restricts any plans for the development and construction of proper sanitation and water storage/extraction facilities that allow the Palestinian communities to thrive.
In a nutshell:
It is obvious that there is a great inequality in water use within Palestine, where daily per capita water consumption in certain areas reaches as low as 37-44 liters, and if the two countries do not share the water resources equally, “Peace” shall never develop.