Maher and his family have been suffering water shortages for nearly 10 years. They get water through a well twice a month in quantities that are not sufficient for their needs. This well is the only source of water for all the families that reside in the town of ‘Jaba’, which is one of seven communities that do not receive sufficient water in Jenin governorate, north of the West Bank.
Fifty-year old Maher Hamamra suffers from the same problem, “The well located near the town of Jaba’ pumps a maximum of 100 cups per hour, that is around 22 liters for a population of about 36000. It is hardly enough for us, which forces us to search for other sources of water. When malfunctions happen, we have to buy water from other wells that supply us up to 20 cups or around 5 liters a day at a costs of 20 shekels per cup, that is $6 and an extra financial burden”.
Mahdi Daraghmeh lives in the ‘Tubas’ governorate with his ten children. They receive water only once a week. Daraghmeh is forced to buy expansive water from the Israeli company ‘Mekorot’.
According to the Palestinian Water Authority website, water in Palestine comes from two main sources. The first is surface water mainly the Jordan River, that is controlled by ‘Mekorot’ water company, through which Israel exploits 85% of this source and its tributaries in Lake Tiberias and Hula. Underground water and springs form the second main source of water spread over eight basins from north to south Palestine. The Palestinian Water Authority manages and distributes this water through companies and municipalities in cities close to the underground reservoirs. The acting director of planning at the Palestinian Water Authority Adel Yasin explains that remote cities get their supplies from the Israeli water company ‘Mekorot’ in varying quantities based on their needs.
Data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics show that West Bank cities suffer a real water deficit, as they don’t get enough water to meet their demands. Until 2018, the recorded deficit was about 58 million cubic meters across the West Bank with Jenin, Tulkarm and Tubas suffering the greatest shortages.
Yasin attributes this deficit to increased demands, as the population doubled since the establishment of the Water Authority in 1995. Yasin explains that the Oslo Agreement signed between the PLO and Israel in 1993, determined the quantities of water supplied to the Palestinians in an initial five years transitional period during which, work was to be done to develop other sources to secure an additional 70 to 80 million cubic meters of water from the Eastern basin and other West Bank sources. However, the Israeli side did not abide by the agreement and did not supply the Palestinian territories with the additional quantities as per agreement.
Muhammad Saeed Al-Humaidi states that the Israeli occupation, limits well diggings to 120-140 meters in the western and eastern basins of the West Bank. The Israelis also prohibits the construction of water infrastructure to connect and supply the areas between North Jenin and south Hebron, which could resolve the water shortages problem.
Adel Yasin points out that the Israeli occupation controls all water resources and increases restrictions on exploitation of the northeastern and western basins. The annual renewable water from the underground reservoirs stands at 750 million cubic meters per annum. The Palestinian side is only allowed to exploit 118 million cubic meters, a mere 15% of the total capacity.
Yasin adds, “The Israeli Water Company ‘Mekorot’ exploits over 600 million cubic meter of the remaining renewable quantities of the basins that fall completely within in the West Bank, in addition to more than 55 million cubic meters from more than 30 underground wells in the Jordan Valley area which is also in the eastern basin.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that an individual should get 50 to 100 liters of water for domestic use and drinking water per day. WHO allows for an additional 20% of water per capita, to cover water for industrial and commercial use. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, this brings the quota per capita to approximately 150 liters.
In comparison Yasin adds that the share of water for Israelis is seven times that of the Palestinians. According to the reports, the daily share of a Palestinian person ranges between 50-80 liters while the share of Israeli individuals, especially settlers, ranges between 400-800 liters per day.
A comparison of data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics show that all West Bank governorates have been suffering from water shortages for more than ten years. These governorates receive less than the global share of water with exception for the governorates of Jericho and the Jordan Valley.
Data analysis proved that Jenin governorate received the least quantity of water with 50 liters per capita in 2018. Bethlehem and Hebron governorates received 78 liters, and Nablus 83. Jericho and the Jordan Valley were the most fortunate with 268 liters. This confirms that Palestinian cities suffer from inequity in their water supply in addition to the overall deficit.
Palestinian cities also suffer from water wastage which exacerbate the problem of water scarcity. Data has shown a 30 million cubic meters wasted in the West Bank in 2018.
Adel Yasin explains that there is a set 10% wastage of water in any network attributed to natural causes like its design, types of pipes and pumping mehtods, which cannot be eliminated.
On the other hand, the age of the network and its 50 year old pipes, inaccurate meters reading and theft results in a larger loss estimated at 30%.
In the West Bank Areas designated as ‘C’ According to the Oslo Agreement, the wastage has been reduced from 14% to 10%, this is due to effective coordination between the security services and the governors in their efforts to protect main distribution pipes in those areas from theft.
Data show that the percentage of water purchased from the Israeli Mekorot water company was on the rise from 2005 to 2018 in the cities of the West Bank. At the same time, the percentage of water pumped out from wells and springs has decreased which has rendered Palestinians dependent on the Mekorot company as main source for buying water.
Adel Yasin states that the quantities of water purchased for domestic use purposes are in the range of 80 million cubic meters, most of it goes to the West Bank, and a small quantity goes to the Gaza Strip. This water reaches the Palestinian consumer at the subsidised price of 2.86 and 3.3 shekels per cubic meter as part of the government policy to support citizens’ access to basic utilities. Local water tank suppliers buy this water at 2.60 shekels even.
Data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reveal that water growth rates in the cities of the West Bank have been diminishing continuously between 2005 to 2018, except for the year 2006. This comes despite the fact that the population numbers did not increase significantly during these years.
Acting Director of Planning at the Water Authority Adel Yasin said, “The Palestinian government has approved a plan to rehabilitate networks where losses exceed 30 percent and will finance that through debt deductions, and will work to instal modern prepaid water meters that contributes to wastage reduction caused by failures of the mechanical meters.”
As for its reliance on purchasing water from the Israeli water company, Mekorot, Adel Yassin says, “ the Water Authority has been lobbying internationally to protect access rights of Palestinians to their natural water resources from ground and surface basins. It also seeks to develop unconventional sources of water like desalinated sea water, recycled water, water harvesting, and will work to re-allocate water quotas prioritizing drinking water.
Yasin adds, “Within its strategic operational plan for the years 2021-2023, the Water Authority gives priority to construct water supply networks in previously unserved communities and to expand these networks in neighborhoods and suburbs of municipalities within its concession areas.”
Majdoleen Nawasrah is a resident of the village of ‘Fahmeh’ in Jenin. She is a mother of four and lives in an elevated area. She does not always receive enough water (due to poor pressure) that is supplied from a local spring or brought from the nearby town of ‘Kafr Ra’i’.
Nawasrah describes her struggle with water scarcity as she often wakes up and does not find a drop of water. She would ask her neighbors for some water or resort to buying extra water. Her family drinking water cost her daily an extra $16 dollars for 36 liters of ‘Ein Gedi’. Majdoleen adds, “Another factor that compels us to buy mineral water is the fact that the Ministry of Health sometimes checks the water in our area and finds it contaminated.”
As a result of the water deficit and scarcity in the cities of the West Bank, Palestinians resort to buying polluted mineral water. We tested the Israeli mineral water of Ein Gedi to determine its quality as it is the most popular water found in Palestinian markets and licensed to be sold to consumers according to the Director General of Consumer Protection Department at the Ministry of National Economy, Ibrahim Al-Qadi. A laboratory test was conducted on samples of half a liter and 2.5 liters at the Food Safety Testing Laboratories Center at Birzeit University,
Lina Jarrar, the coordinator of the microbiology laboratories at Birzeit University explains that the reason behind the contamination of the samples “is the presence of bacteria in levels above the permissible limit. Contamination with fecal and bacillus bacteria is evident upon examining bottled water. These cause some diseases, such as poisoning, respiratory infections, skin allergies and asthma. Their danger increases among groups with a weak immune system and among children and the elderly.”
She points out that the reason for the contamination of bottled mineral water “is the lack of follow-up on the part of the factory itself, the lack of supervision over the filters and the failure to clean them constantly. The factory uses the filters more than once without sterilizing them. This is in addition to storing bottled water poorly; some shops display mineral water bottles in the sun and expose them to more than 30 degrees heat, which leads to a chemical reaction in the plastic containers. This causes several diseases such as cancer.”
According to Palestinian and European standards, the percentage of aerobic bacteria should not exceed 100 ml. If it goes above this rate, the water is considered contaminated. Further, bottled water must not be exposed to temperatures that exceed 25 degrees Celsius.
Ibrahim Al-Qadi, Director General of the Consumer Protection Department at the Ministry of National Economy, says, “The Palestinian markets contain Israeli mineral water licensed for sale here like the bottled water produced by Jafora Tabori Company, which is a major juice and mineral water company. There are also other types of Israeli mineral water banned from Palestinian markets as they originate in the settlements, like ‘Mey Eden’ and ‘Tifod’ that are usually smuggled in to be sold here.
Al-Qadi says that Israeli water of Ein Gedi share of the market does not exceed 20 percent. And he say that “Samples of water are usually sent to the Ministry of Health (for analysis) before offering them on the markets, but I do not know of the contaminated water.”
He stated that there would be follow-up on the issue and those responsible would be punished. The Consumer Protection Department conducts daily inspections, seizes spoiled products and damaged mineral water exposed to the sun. The shop owner is also punished by withdrawing the product and by closing the store.
We contacted UniGroup Palestine, the agents of the Jafora Tabori company which also includes the Israeli water of Ein Gedi.
The sales manager, Shadi Abu Bakir, commented that each batch of water is usually checked in the factory (before distribution), If any contamination is detected, the entire quantity would be destroyed. The products are insured. If the test result is accurate, the sample that was examined may have been exposed to the sun. Once exposed to the sun, bottled water would be damaged.