Not Even a Drop
The Water Crisis in Palestinian Villages
Without a Water Network
Researched and written by Yehezkel Lein
Fieldwork by Musa Abu Hashhash, Hashem Abu Hassan
Data coordination by Najib Abu Rokaya, Ronen Schnayderman
Translated by Zvi Shulman
Thanks to Liat Taub, a B’Tselem volunteer, for her assistance in preparing this report.
Israelis receive most of their water from two principal water sources: the Mountain Aquifer and the Jordanian Basin. Under international law, these sources are international water resources shared by Israel and the Palestinians. The division of water from these sources is patently unfair, in Israel’s favor. As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank suffer a permanent water crisis, making it impossible for them to meet their basic needs.
The water crisis causes particularly great distress in towns and villages that do not have a network to households with running water. Two hundred and eighteen communities in the West Bank are not connected to a water network, compelling their approximately 197,000 residents to seek alternative water sources. The extensive restrictions on freedom of movement that Israel has imposed during the current intifada, together with the sharp deterioration of the Palestinian economy, impede Palestinians’ access to water and aggravate their already grave situation.
In July 2000, B’Tselem published a position paper on various aspects of the water crisis in the Occupied Territories, which proposed guidelines for a permanent status arrangement concerning water that complies with human rights principles.1 This report briefly reviews the water problem in the West Bank, focussing on the hardship of residents in communities that are not connected to a water network.2
The Water Crisis in the West Bank: Background Data
Shared Water Sources
The Mountain Aquifer is a system of groundwater basins that transects the border between Israel and the West Bank. This resource is the only water source available for Palestinians in the West Bank, serving all their needs: household, urban, industrial, and agricultural. The aquifer provides Israel with slightly more than one-quarter of the water it uses, primarily for household and urban needs. Currently, some eighty percent of the Mountain Aquifer water is earmarked for use by Israel and the settlements, and some twenty percent for the Palestinians.3
The second shared water source is the drainage basin of the Jordan River, which includes the Upper Jordan River and the streams flowing into it, the Sea of Galilee, the Yarmuh River, and the Lower Jordan River. Palestinians have rights to this source because the West Bank is situated on the shore of the Lower Jordan River. Approximately one-third of all the water that Israel uses comes from this source. The Palestinians do not benefit at all from the Jordan Basin, except for a small quantity that Israel extracts from it and sells in the Gaza Strip.4
Gaps in Consumption
The inequitable division of the shared water sources is most clearly reflected in the enormous disparity in water consumption between Israelis and Palestinians for all uses other than agriculture. These include the following:
household use, such as drinking, cooking, hygiene, house-cleaning, flushing of toilets, laundering clothes, dish washing, watering gardens, and small plots of vegetables and fruit trees;
urban use, such as watering green areas, filling public swimming pools, and supplying water to hospitals, businesses, and hotels;
industrial use of various kinds that consumes water, primarily in the chemicals, food and drink, building, and textile industries.
For all these needs, the average Palestinian in the West Bank consumes sixty liters of water a day. The precise consumption of residents in communities that are not connected to a water network is unknown. However, clearly it is significantly less than the overall average. In comparison, average per capita consumption in Israel and the settlements is 350 liters a day, i.e., almost six times higher than Palestinian per capita consumption.5 The minimal quantity of water recommended by the U.S. Agency for International Development for household and urban use alone is 100 liters a day per person.6
The inequity is especially apparent when one considers that the agricultural sector, which consumes water for economic reasons and not to meet basic needs, is the largest water consumer in Israel. In 1998, this sector consumed fifty-three percent of all the drinking-quality water produced in Israel that year. Decisions reached by all Israeli governments to heavily subsidize water supplied for agriculture is the primary reason for the extensive use of water by this sector. In other words, the generous allocations of water to the agricultural sector are not based on any economic logic (as regards the vast majority of the Israeli public) but on clearly political considerations.7
The professional commission appointed by the Minister of Agriculture in 1995 to examine Israel’s water policy recommended cancellation of the allocations and subsidies to the agricultural sector. Rather, it proposed that farmers be allowed to consume water as they wish and be charged an unsubsidized price. The commission’s recommendations, which were submitted to the Water Commission at the end of 1996, were rejected outright.8
The Water Commissioner’s Office frequently disseminates through the media figures on the “drastic cut” in the water allocations for agriculture. For example, following the drought during the winter of 1998/1999, the Water Commissioner’s Office cut the water quota for the agricultural sector by forty percent for 1999 and fifty percent for 2000.9 However, as the State Comptroller’s report indicates, a substantial part of the cuts were only theoretical, because they relate to the 1989 quota and not the actual consumption during the previous year.10 This quota fails to take into account the changes that occurred over the past ten years in irrigation technology and the size of the land under cultivation. In practice, the reduction for 1999 amounted to only ten percent. A press report indicates that the actual cutback for 2000 was of comparable size.11
Furthermore, the State Comptroller revealed that the Water Commissioner’s Office allocates water quotas at a subsidized price, ostensibly for agricultural use, for wealthy Israeli communities where farming is almost non-existent. These communities include Kfar Shmariyahu, Savyon, Omer, and Ramat Hasharon. In 2000, 23.2 mcm (million cubic meters) of water were allocated to these four towns for agricultural use.12 This quantity is comparable to half of that year’s household and urban use in the entire West Bank.