How much water do Israelis and Palestinians consume?
Average Palestinian daily consumption of water is about 70 liters per person, well below the 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to cover domestic and public service needs. In contrast, the average Israeli daily per capita consumption is about four times the Palestinian average (300 liters)[ii]. This is in contrast to European levels where for example the average daily water consumption in the UK is 149 liters per person while in France it is 287 liters per person[iii].
What is the reason for this discrepancy?
Israeli policies and practices limit Palestinians’ access to the water they are entitled to under international law. Israel controls all sources of freshwater in the West Bank. Palestinians are only allowed, according to the Oslo Accords, to take 20 percent of the “estimated potential” of the Mountain Aquifer underneath the West Bank; Israel extracts the balance[iv]. As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank are forced to purchase over half of their water from Israel. Israel takes this water from the Mountain Aquifer over which Palestinians have rights to an equitable share[v].
In Gaza, 90 to 95 percent of the Coastal Aquifer, on which Gaza inhabitants are dependent for water, is contaminated due to over extraction and sewage contamination, making it unfit for human consumption. Palestinians in Gaza have hardly any other sources of water available to them. The aquifer is depleted and in danger of collapse[vi]. Restrictions imposed by Israel as part of its ongoing blockade make the rehabilitation of the aquifer and the search for alternatives extremely difficult. Palestinians in Gaza are not allowed to access water from the Mountain Aquifer. Israel also limits the entry of construction materials for construction, repair and rehabilitation of infrastructure that would allow for improved water management. Mass desalination of seawater as an alternative is too costly and unsustainable within the current context given frequent electricity shortages in Gaza associated with Israel’s blockade.
What are the impacts of these policies?
Water shortages are common in the West Bank, especially during the summer months, when Israel rations water to Palestinian communities. In contrast, Israeli settlements in the West Bank have unrestricted access to water, well-watered lawns and swimming pools. While Israelis also ration water, this is done as part of sustainable government-led schemes.
In Gaza, the majority of the population is forced to purchase water for drinking and cooking from private vendors because water from the tap is of poor quality[vii]. This often does not meet the minimum quality standards as set by the WHO and is expensive for many households, especially in an environment where the economy has been decimated due to Israeli military operations and the blockade.
Can Palestinians treat their wastewater?
Only 31 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank are linked to the sewage network, with only one Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) in operation, due to Israel’s refusal to grant the necessary permits or Israeli military security clearance for the construction and operation of sanitation and wastewater treatment facilities and networks. The approval process for the Salfit WWTP, funded by a German development agency, has been held up by Israel since 1996 for example.
Due to the Israeli-imposed blockade on Gaza, restrictions on import to the Gaza Strip of materials and equipment necessary for development and repair of infrastructure have led the water and sanitation situation to reach crisis point[viii]. Poor maintenance and low capacity of the sewage treatment plants (as well as restrictions on entry of fuel and electricity) has resulted in 60-80 millions liters of untreated or partially treated sewage flowing daily into the Mediterranean Sea and contaminating the underground aquifer.
What other obstacles to access to water and adequate sanitation do Palestinians face?
In the West Bank, the Israeli Civil Administration requires Palestinian communities to apply for permits, (which are rarely granted), in 60 percent of the West Bank (known as Area C) for any development projects such as rehabilitation of wells and extension of networks. Communities often resort to building without permits, given how difficult it is to secure a permit, risking the issuance of demolition orders[ix]. The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the oPt Mr Maxwell Gaylard, said: “It is difficult to understand the reasoning behind the destruction of basic rain water collection systems, some of them very old, which serve marginalized rural and herder Palestinian communities where water is already scarce and where drought is an ever-present threat.” (February 2011)
In Gaza, over 30 km of water networks and 11 wells operated by the water authorities were damaged or destroyed by the Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead. The UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict (the Goldstone report) deemed this destruction “deliberate and systematic.
What are Israel’s obligations?
Israel is the Occupying Power in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Under international humanitarian law, an occupying power is responsible for the welfare of the civilian population and must ensure that civilians are provided with or allowed to secure the basics for survival including food, water, medical supplies and shelter. Palestinians are guaranteed access to drinking water, water for personal hygiene and sanitation under the Geneva Conventions[x].
Israel ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) where the right to water is enshrined. In September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council affirmed for the first time that the human right to water and sanitation is legally binding[xi]. Israel however is one of three countries that have not recognized both of these rights[xii]
How can we change the situation?
The Thirsting for Justice Campaign aims to mobilise European citizens to demand that their governments pressure Israel to change its policies and practices in order to comply with international law and respect Palestinians’ human rights. Close ties with Israel put European Union Member States in a strong position to affect change. Furthermore, the European Union has stated its commitment to Palestinian rights, including the right to water and sanitation[xiii].
The Thirsting for Justice Campaign works directly with communities in the West Bank and Gaza so their voices can be heard and their stories known to the world.
What are we asking for?
The campaign will run until the end of 2012. We are asking for:
1- Israel to respect Palestinian rights to water and sanitation
- In particular, that Palestinians in the West Bank be granted access to and control over their share of the aquifer so they can satisfy their water needs. Since 1967, Israel has not allowed Palestinians to dig wells in the Western Aquifer, the largest and most productive source of water in the West Bank. The EU must call on Israel to lift restrictions and respect its commitments by allowing Palestinians to have wells there.
- Palestinians in Gaza be allowed to rehabilitate their aquifer and develop alternatives, including access to their share of the Mountain aquifer in the West Bank and the Jordan River.
2- Palestinians to be allowed to develop infrastructure:
- Reconstruction and maintenance materials to be allowed into Gaza without delay. It is urgent that Palestinians are allowed to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities to increase capacity and minimize the impact on public health.
- Construction in Area C of the West Bank is allowed without delay, and demolitions stop immediately. The permitting system ceases to impede small construction such as connection to the water and sewage networks as well as construction of Waste Water Treatment Plants.
3– Greater accountability for violations of international law
- The European Union and Member States demand compensation from Israel for delayed or destroyed EU-funded projects. Israel will be requested to compensate communities for projects obstructed and resources appropriated in line with its obligations as the Occupying Power.