Hung out to dry – 20 years of denying Palestinian water rights

13 September, 2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords. Since then, Palestinians have come no closer to achieving their basic water rights. In the West Bank, Palestinians have access to less water per capita than they did in 1993 due to Israel’s continued exploitation of the shared mountain aquifer, and the restrictions it imposes on the development of essential Palestinian water infrastructure. As a result, Palestinians are increasingly dependent on purchased water from Israel to meet their basic water needs. In the Gaza Strip, less than 5 percent of the water extracted from the Coastal aquifer – the only source of water available to Palestinians due to unfair water allocations and Israel’s blockade – is safe to drink. The denial of Palestinian water rights has become a permanent feature under the Oslo Interim Accords. Access to safe, reliable and adequate water supplies is a basic right, and should not be held hostage to negotiations or a final agreement. It is time to think outside of the Oslo framework. It is time to act on water.

Quick Facts:

§ The Oslo Accords left Israel in control over almost all of the shared water resources in the oPt. Palestinian water allocations from these shared resources have remained capped at 1995 levels (Oslo II Agreement), despite the Palestinian population having doubled since then.

§ Palestinians currently utilize no more than 10 per cent of the shared water resources, while Israel exploits the rest.[1] Under customary international water law, these same water resources should be shared equitably and reasonably.

§ The average domestic consumption rate among Palestinians living in the West Bank is 70 liters per capita per day (l/c/d). The “absolute minimum” recommended by the WHO is 100 l/c/d. In Israel, it is 300 l/c/d.[2] Palestinians have the lowest access to freshwater resources in the region as compared to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel.[3]

§ Largely due to permit restrictions preventing the rehabilitation and development of essential water infrastructure, Palestinian water abstraction rates from the West Bank Mountain aquifers have fallen from 138 million cubic meters (MCM) in 1999, to 113MCM in 2007,[4] to 86.9MCM in 2011.[5]

§ Palestinian reliance on purchased water from Israel has increased in the West Bank. In 2004, the PWA purchased 38MCM from Israel. In 2011, this had increased to 52MCM.

§ In 2011, only 264 Palestinian wells were operational in the West Bank.[6] That compares to 774 Palestinian wells operational in 1967.[7]

§ Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley consume on average 81 times more water than Palestinians in the West Bank.[8]

§ Some 50,000 Palestinians in 151 communities live on less than 20 lpcd, which is the minimum amount recommended by the WHO for “short-term survival” in emergency and disaster situations.[9]

§ The demolition of essential Palestinian water and sanitation infrastructure – such as wells, cisterns, rainwater tanks, latrines and sewage treatment units – has been a consistent feature of Israel’s occupation, and remains a primary cause of Palestinian displacement, particularly in Area C.[10]

§ Under Oslo, Israel is obliged to sell approximately 5 MCM/yr to Gaza, a quota that was calculated based on a 748,000 population figure. Today, the population in Gaza has more than doubled but the water quotas have not been revised accordingly.[11]

§ Gaza’s share of the Coastal aquifer is being over-pumped by twice its sustainable yield to meet growing demands, leading to its depletion and contamination. Demand for fresh water is expected to grow by 60% by 2020.[12]

§ 95% of the water abstracted from coastal aquifer in Gaza is contaminated with dangerous levels of either Nitrate or Chloride or both, and unfit for human consumption.

§ Gaza´s Coastal aquifer could become completely unusable by 2016 and the damage irreversible by 2020 if no alternative water resources are provided.[13]


[1]Palestinian Water Authority, Palestine: The Right to Water, 2012

[2]Amnesty International, Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water, 2009, retrievable at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/027/2009/en/e9892ce4-7fba-469b-96b9-c1e1084c620c/mde150272009en.pdf.

[3]World Bank, Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development, 2009, retrievable at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWESTBANKGAZA/Resources/WaterRestrictionsReportJuly2009.pdf.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Palestinian Water Authority, 2011 Annual Status Report on Water Resources, Water Supply, and Wastewater in the Occupied State of Palestine, 2012

[6] Palestinian Water Authority, 2011 Annual Status Report on Water Resources, 2012.

[7]World Bank, Assessment of Restrictions on Palestinian Water Sector Development, 2009.

[8]EWASH, Factsheet 14: Water for Agriculture in the West Bank, March 2013, retrievable at: http://www.ewash.org/files/library/WB%20factsheet%20fianl%20march%209%5B1%5D.pdf.

[9] EWASH, Down the Drain: Israeli Restrictions on the WASH Sector in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Their Impact on Vulnerable Communities, March 2012, retrievable at: http://www.ewash.org/files/library/Down%20the%20Drain%20-%20Israeli%20restrictions%20on%20the%20WASH%20sector%20in%20the%20Occupied%20Palestinian%20Territory%20and%20their%20impact%20on%20vulnerable%20communities.pdf.

[10]In 2012, 540 Palestinian owned structures were demolished in Area C, including 165 homes and 375 livelihood and animal structures, infrastructure and other structures, resulting in the displacement of 815 people. In East Jerusalem, a further 64 Palestinian owned structures were demolished, displacing 22 people. See UNOCHA, Fragmented Lives: Humanitarian Overview 2012, May 2013, retrievable at: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_fragmented_lives_annual_report_2013_english_web.pdf.

[11]Bennett Zimmerman et al, The Million Person Gap: the Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza, 2006, retrievable at: http://www.biu.ac.il/Besa/MSPS65.pdf.

[12] UNSCO, Gaza in 2020: A liveable Place?, 2012, retrievable at: http://unispal.un.org/pdfs/GazaIn2020.pdf.

[13] Ibid