March 21, 2013

World Water Day – Palestine’s West Bank Running Dry

Another year has passed and 1 billion people in the world still don’t have access to clean water. The struggle for manhood’s most basic resource has earned a day in its honour.

In the Middle East, specifically the Levant, we are no strangers to water outages, But for Palestine, a country whose cities enjoy more rain than London; the region’s most valued resource cannot be side-lined much longer without the risk of overflow.

Palestinians’ Water Limited to 70% World Recommended Average

What is usually seen as a symbol of good luck has turned into the epitome of despair in Palestinian cities, where the water usage per person falls 30% below the recommended amount by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of 100 litres. Conversely, Israelis enjoy 420% more than Palestinians, and three-times the recommended amount by the WHO.

In addition to controlling all the major water resources in the West bank, this cap is controlled by rejecting permits to build water wells, if submitted by Palestinians, or for operation in the Palestinian regions. In turn, Palestinians succumb to drilling for their own wells, which leaves them with foul water. Without the technology to build efficient, sustainable water wells and pumps, the cycle will continue to repeat itself in the West Bank until the Settlers take over, or Israel eases it’s blockade on the Palestinians.

Organisations such as EWash and Visualising Palestine are no strangers to pointing out the injustice and promoting healthy water usage.


Health, Economy, and Agriculture – three doves with one stone

Although rainwater is abundant, the Israeli Defence Forces destroyed 34 rainwater cisterns and 21 wells in 2011 alone. The decrease in availability of water impacted the economy, with production rates of basic amenities such as locally produced juices and agriculture diminishing.  Palestinians succumbing to unsanitary water affects their health directly, with increased rates of diarrhoea.

Left with no other option than buying Israeli goods, the scale tips in Israel’s favour as water transforms itself into money trickling into their economy.

Polluted Territories

It’s not just Palestinians who are suffering the pinch of Israel’s effects on the water supplies in the region. According to cables released by Wikileaks, in 2007, 900 residents of the Mafraq region in Jordan were “infected by a nonfatal parasite found in their water tanks”. Repairs of the water pipe that allegedly caused this issue were halted due to funding. Over one hundred thousand Syrians have now taken refuge in the makeshift refugee camp set up in Mafraq this past summer. Many have criticized the living conditions of that very refugee camp. Two years later, another cable published in 2009 showed that oil and sewage had made its way into the canal that supplies Amman with “one-third of its water needs…Jordanian authorities determined that the contamination originated from Israel…” Although the reasons for this contamination were never actually determined, it was suspected that they were caused by rainfall. In what can be seen as an admission of guilt, Israel agreed to compensate the Jordanian government. Perhaps they realized that they didn’t own enough tear gas to stop the Arab version of Erin Brockovich. 

“The Only Reason to go to War”

Land, energy, and power have been at the forefront of the region’s most recent wars over the past decade. From Iraq to Iran, to the power struggle fuelled Arab Spring, the region is not immune from a war over water. The late King Hussein of Jordan identified water as the only reason his country would go to war with a Jewish State. Following the signing of the 1079 Israeli-Egyptian peace treat, Anwar Sadat immediately turned to a sour note stating Egypt will “never go to war again, except to protect its water resources.”

Over half the Arab nations suffer from water scarcity. The top 10 countries in the world affected by water scarcity are in fact Arab, with Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait taking the top three. Israel takes the eighth position.

Water outages won’t teach anyone how to conserve water, it merely forces them to ‘stock up’ on water and store it in tanks. Instead, we need to address the crisis from a human perspective to sustain our futures and our economies. Instilling core water-conservation values in our younger generation, simultaneously investing in sustainable energy-efficient desalination technologies must become as vital in government policy as how much of Sharia law they want to implement.

About the Author

Yara Al Wazir
Palestinian by blood, Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian and environmental activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories.


Be the first to comment!

Leave a Reply