Israel and the Palestinian territories are suffering a fifth year of
drought. Water shortages are especially acute in the West Bank, where
an aquifer shared by Israelis and Palestinians is being depleted. The
World Bank recently reported Israelis are receiving four times as much
water per capita than West Bank Palestinians, a situation resulting
from the breakdown of the peace process and the Palestinian Authority's
failure to build infrastructure.
It is Wednesday at the home of the Mahmoud
family in the village of Rafat, not far from Jerusalem. This is one of
the few days of the week that water flows from the taps.
members rush to take advantage of every precious drop before the
afternoon, filling plastic jugs, oil drums, and pails with water for
use by the 15 people who live in this home.
Intifar Sabre Abu
Hassan, one of the women of the family, says she knows the taps will
run dry by the afternoon, and then stay dry for several days ahead. She
hurries to knead the dough for the bread her family will eat all week.
says that on this day that they have water from the taps, her family
bathes, does laundry, washes dishes, cooks, and flushes toilets. She
says these are things a human needs to do.
But the Mahmouds,
like many other Palestinian families in the West Bank do not have
access to much of the water in the ground beneath them.
They live above the Mountain Aquifer, which the Palestinians share with Israel and its settlements in the West Bank.
Bromberg is the Israeli director of the Friends of the Middle East, an
environmental group that has long been monitoring use of the aquifer.
five consecutive years of drought, the Mountain Aquifer has been
terribly over-pumped," said Bromberg. "In fact, all water resources in
Israel and shared between Israel and Palestine, have been overdrawn.
Israel takes the lion's share of the Mountain Aquifer. Some 80 percent
of the waters of the Mountain Aquifer go to Israel and only 20 percent
go to Palestinians in the West Bank. And therefore, it's also a source
of animosity between the peoples."
A World Bank report issued
this year says the average Israeli gets four times as much water as the
average Palestinian. It warns of a nearing catastrophe.
For Intifar's father, Mahmoud Abu Ibrahim, a farmer in his 80s whose crops depend on rainfall, the catastrophe is here.
stoops over some drying tomato plants in his field, pulling the dried
stalks and leaves and tossing out shriveled up tomatoes that have
fallen from the plants.
He says there is no water. The soil is dry. All the tomatoes are spoiled. He says there is nothing to harvest.
In the nearby village of Qattana, no water has been pumped for days.
and children come from kilometers away to line up with plastic jugs and
soft drink bottles at a single tap that is connected to a spring.
17-year-old boy says he spends long days carrying water back to his
family's home. He blames the Israelis for the shortage.
He says he has to come here because there is no water, and he believes it is the Israelis' fault.
itself is suffering from acute shortages and is carrying out a
conservation campaign. However, signs of the shortage are much less
visible in cities like Jerusalem, where taps have yet to go dry.
Fountains in public places are flowing and sprinklers in public parks
irrigate vast green lawns using tap water.
Easing water shortages
say one way they are trying to ease water shortages in the West Bank is by
pushing a project - along with Jordan - to channel water from the Red
Sea to the Dead Sea.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan
Shalom, who also serves as minister for regional development, told
reporters recently the project to pump millions of cubic meters of
saltwater uphill to the Palestinian territories also aims to save the
Dead Sea from drying up, and boost tourism.
"We would have, of
course, desalinated water," he said. "There is a lack of water in all
the region, especially in Jordan and for the Palestinians."
some warn the plan is environmentally risky and expensive. On the
Palestinian side, management problems and other obstacles are holding
up infrastructure projects.
Environmentalist Gidon Bromberg
says a joint Israeli-Palestinian water commission that was supposed to
address water issues has not been doing its job.
framework of the joint water committee, with the souring of the of
peace process, became antagonistic," he said. "Rather than being a
mechanism of cooperation, of joint fact-finding, of assistance to one
another, it became another focal point for animosity and a failure,
really, to work together to solve the desperate needs of both peoples."
is one of the issues that are supposed to be dealt with in final status
negotiations. With the peace process stalled, there is little hope for
a quick solution.
In the meantime, Intifar Sabre Mahmoud Abu Hassan and her family are doing their best to cope.
She says her family is trying to be careful with water, and trying to economize and ration. She wonders what else they can do.
now, the Mahmoud family and others have no choice but to keep
containers ready for the days when water does flow through the taps.