MIDDLE EAST: Human rights group warns of 'grave' water shortage in West Bank

July 2, 2008

An Israeli human rights group has said there is a serious water shortage in large areas of the West Bank, the territory Israel occupied in 1967, as a result of what the group says is the most serious drought in the area in the past decade and Israel's "discrimination in [the] division of water sources."

B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said, "The shortage will have serious repercussions on the economy and the health of tens of thousands of Palestinians."

It added, "The chronic water shortage in the West Bank, resulting from an unfair distribution of water resources shared by the Palestinians and Israel, will be much graver this summer because of this year's drought."

B'Tselem also blamed the water shortage on limits Israel places on the Palestinian Authority to drill new wells. "Access to water without discrimination is recognized by international law as a fundamental human right," the group said in a July 1 press release.

The human rights group called on Israel to ensure an "immediate, regular, adequate supply of water" to all residents of the West Bank, and "to allow the Palestinian Authority to develop new water sources."

Najeeb Abu Rokaya, director of the field research department of B'Tselem, said: "Even if there is a little amount of water in this area, I believe there is enough for every human being. We need to plan for it, and first of all make sure that every human being has enough drinking water. God created the world, and in this the water for all people, not just for Jews or Palestinians or Christians or any other group."

Figures given in the press release painted a picture of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians with no connection to a water network, and who have to buy water at six times the cost of pumped water.

B'Tselem said that many Palestinians who are connected to the water supply reported disruption because Mekorot, Israel's national water company, which also controls the water supply to Palestinian areas, reduces the supply to Palestinian towns and villages in order to meet the increased need of Jewish settlements.

In the northern Palestinian city of Nablus, the Rev. Ibrahim Nairouz, an Anglican priest, said that he gets water only once every eight days. He said that he, like others in his two congregations and the city in general, has had to buy extra water tanks in order to fill up for the week.

"I know this isn't a solution but we need to have continuous water," he told Ecumenical News International. He explained that his church was planning to re-open an old water well that it had not used for years, so that it could collect rainwater for cleaning and gardening needs. Hopefully next year, he said, the well would help with the water shortage problem they have been facing.

Nairouz added that his two churches had helped 12 families purchase additional water tanks, and assisted three other families to pay their water bills.

The B'Tselem press release states that many poor families draw water from unsupervised wells, and this is leading to an increase of infectious diseases in many rural areas during the summertime.

"The average water consumption per capita of Israelis is 3.5 times that of Palestinians," said the B'Tselem release.