According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli control of water supplies in the West Bank has led to a severe water crisis for Palestinian residents. The situation is worst in the Israeli-controlled stretch of land known as Area C, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is technically responsible for water services, but simply unable to deliver.Cara Flowers, an officer with the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group (EWASH), said the health and livelihoods of communities living in Area C – covering 60 percent of land in the West Bank and home to some 60,000 of the West Bank’s 2.3 million people – were hardest hit as they have a severe lack of access to water and sanitation infrastructure.
“Many vulnerable communities are 40km from the nearest filling point,” said Flowers. “This makes drinking water less accessible and more costly during summer months.”
She said EWASH was struggling to implement emergency humanitarian water projects in Area C as it lacked the necessary permits from the Israeli authorities.
The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (also known as Oslo II) categorized land in the West Bank into areas A, B and C.
According to the agreement, Area A is under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Area B under the joint control of Israel and the PA. About 95 percent of the Palestinian population live in these two areas, though they make up only 40 percent of the land area.
In Area C, Israel has retained full control over security and while responsibility for the provision of services falls to the PA, according to EWASH.
But the Palestinian Water Authority says it has very limited control over water resources in the West Bank.
Rights body Amnesty International accuses Israel of denying Palestinians the right to access sufficient water supplies in the West Bank by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and preventing the development of adequate water infrastructure there.
The Mountain Aquifer is the only source of water for Palestinians in the West Bank, but one of several for Israel, which also has sole access to water available from the Jordan river.
“Israel uses more than 80 percent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, the main source of underground water in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, while restricting Palestinian access to a mere 20 percent,” said Amnesty.
This is no clearer than to the more than 100 Bedouin families living in the water-stressed village of Ras al-Awja near Jericho in Area C. While they are forced to pay inflated prices for tanker water from the nearest filling point some 7km away, nearby unlawful Israeli settlements have irrigated gardens and productive farmland, according to EWASH.
A water filling point that once served the Bedouin community has been welded shut by the Israeli authorities, causing a canal irrigation system to empty and stopping all piped water to Palestinians in the area. Without ample supplies of water, the existence of this livestock and subsistence farming-dependent community is under threat.
Israel says it has responded to the needs of the Palestinians and has increased the quantity of water provided to them far beyond that specified in the Interim Agreement.
Meanwhile, the West Bank’s water crisis is worsening, according to a March 2010 report by EWASH. Only 31 percent of communities in the West Bank are connected to a sewage network, it said.