Climate Change and the Palestinian Authority

16 Mar
6:51 AM

by Zena Agha, for Al Shabaka Palestinian Policy Network

Climate change is among the greatest threats currently facing human life. Its effects are global, wide-ranging, and unequally distributed. Despite Palestinians and Israelis inhabiting the same physical terrain, Palestinians under occupation will suffer the effects of climate change more severely.

The single greatest non-environmental risk facing Palestinians in the West Bank remains the ongoing Israeli occupation, an occupation so pervasive that the United Nations Development Program considers it an environmental “risk” in its own right.Now in its 52nd year, the occupation prevents Palestinians from accessing and managing their land and resources, particularly water. Significantly, it prevents them from pursuing measures to support climate change adaptation, which is the adjustment of human or natural systems in response to the effects of climate change. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) inability to pursue adaptation policies is a direct consequence of the occupation and will have acute human and environmental repercussions for Palestinian inhabitants.

Consequences for Palestine

Palestine-Israel is located in one of the world’s most water-scarce regions. Climate change is expected to result in decreased rainfall and rising temperatures. This puts the water and agriculture sectors at serious risk, particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), which has some of the world’s lowest per capita water availability. Palestinians’ main source of drinking water is stored groundwater (predominantly from aquifers), while approximately half of the water extracted from these groundwater wells is used for agriculture.

Israel has engineered a complicated bureaucratic system designed to control and curtail Palestinians’ access to groundwater under the cover of enforcing the terms of the 1995 Oslo II Interim Accord, which temporarily allocated water resources to the Israeli government and the PA. Oslo II granted Israel control over approximately 80% of water reserves in the West Bank for an initial five-year period. The agreement, which is in effect to this day, therefore did not account for long-term changes in water distribution or population growth.

The Joint Water Committee (JWC), an organ of the Oslo Accords, prevents Palestinians from making water-related decisions without Israeli approval, impeding their access to the Jordan River and denying them permits to capture runoff water in dams. Israeli policies thereby make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to develop new water access or repair existing infrastructure; this frequently results in the demolition of life-sustaining structures and wells under the pretext that the structures were built without Israel’s permission. At the same time, Israel’s 600,000 illegal settlers use six times more water than the three million Palestinians in the West Bank. Settler violence toward Palestinian infrastructure further imperils fragile water systems.

Climate change is among the greatest threats currently facing human life. Its effects are global, wide-ranging, and unequally distributed. Despite Palestinians and Israelis inhabiting the same physical terrain, Palestinians under occupation will suffer the effects of climate change more severely.

The single greatest non-environmental risk facing Palestinians in the West Bank remains the ongoing Israeli occupation, an occupation so pervasive that the United Nations Development Program considers it an environmental “risk” in its own right.Now in its 52nd year, the occupation prevents Palestinians from accessing and managing their land and resources, particularly water. Significantly, it prevents them from pursuing measures to support climate change adaptation, which is the adjustment of human or natural systems in response to the effects of climate change. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) inability to pursue adaptation policies is a direct consequence of the occupation and will have acute human and environmental repercussions for Palestinian inhabitants.

Consequences for Palestine

Palestine-Israel is located in one of the world’s most water-scarce regions. Climate change is expected to result in decreased rainfall and rising temperatures. This puts the water and agriculture sectors at serious risk, particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), which has some of the world’s lowest per capita water availability. Palestinians’ main source of drinking water is stored groundwater (predominantly from aquifers), while approximately half of the water extracted from these groundwater wells is used for agriculture.

Israel has engineered a complicated bureaucratic system designed to control and curtail Palestinians’ access to groundwater under the cover of enforcing the terms of the 1995 Oslo II Interim Accord, which temporarily allocated water resources to the Israeli government and the PA. Oslo II granted Israel control over approximately 80% of water reserves in the West Bank for an initial five-year period. The agreement, which is in effect to this day, therefore did not account for long-term changes in water distribution or population growth.

The Joint Water Committee (JWC), an organ of the Oslo Accords, prevents Palestinians from making water-related decisions without Israeli approval, impeding their access to the Jordan River and denying them permits to capture runoff water in dams. Israeli policies thereby make it extremely difficult for Palestinians to develop new water access or repair existing infrastructure; this frequently results in the demolition of life-sustaining structures and wells under the pretext that the structures were built without Israel’s permission. At the same time, Israel’s 600,000 illegal settlers use six times more water than the three million Palestinians in the West Bank. Settler violence toward Palestinian infrastructure further imperils fragile water systems.

Zena Agha is Al-Shabaka’s US Policy Fellow. Her areas of expertise include Israeli settlement-building in the occupied Palestinian territory with a special focus on Jerusalem, modern Middle Eastern history, and spatial practices. She has previously worked at the Economist, the Iraqi Embassy in Paris, and the Palestinian delegation at UNESCO. In addition to opinion pieces in The Independent, and The Nation, Zena’s media credits include the BBC World Service, BBC Arabic and El Pais. Zena was awarded the Kennedy Scholarship to study at Harvard University, completing her Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies.

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