The 2008 drought, the most serious drought in the area in the past decade, aggravates the built-in, constant shortage of water in the West Bank. Rainfall this year in the northern West Bank was 64 percent of average, while in the southern sections of the West Bank, it was 55 percent. As a result, the water stored from rainfall has already been used. The Palestinian Water Authority estimates this year’s water shortage in the West Bank at 42 to 69 million cubic meters. The total water consumption in the West Bank is 79 mcm. The PWA has already requested Mekorot – the Israel Water Company – for an emergency supply of eight mcm.
Israel holds complete control of the water sources shared by Israel and the Palestinians, primarily the Mountain Aquifer, and prohibits by army order any Palestinian drilling of wells without a permit. At the same time, Israel draws from the West Bank, primarily from the Jordan Valley, some 44 mcm, five million more than it supplies to the Palestinian Authority. Israel allocates to Palestinians only 20 percent of the water from the Mountain Aquifer, and prevents the PWA to develop additional water sources to enable greater water supply for Palestinians in the West Bank.
Israel’s obligations under international law
As the occupying power, Israel is required under international humanitarian law to ensure public order and safety in the occupied territory, without discrimination. In addition, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Israel ratified, ensures access to clean drinking water without discrimination. International human rights law also ensures the Palestinians’ right to utilize and enjoy freely their natural resources.
A recent release from CPT shows the various ways that the Israeli occupation exacerbates the drought conditions in the everyday lives of rural Palestinians:
23 July, 2008
At-Tuwani and neighboring villages are in the worst drought-affected area of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT): only 13% of the expected rainfall came in the Hebron area in the winter of 2007-08. Lower than required levels collected in local wells and cisterns. At-Tuwani villagers told Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) that there is only around one week's supply of water left in the village.
Drought-related problems are made worse by the Israeli military roadblocks (see Releases: 27 June & 5 July 2008), that restrict access to the nearest Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) filling point. However, the capacity of the PWA is insufficient to meet local needs. The Oslo II Peace Agreement of 1995 called for "the equitable utilization of joint water resources": this has never happened. Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem reports that the per capita consumption of water of Palestinians in the West Bank is 66 liters, whereas the average daily water consumption in Israeli cities is 235 liters.
A few families in At-Tuwani have purchased water, but the Israeli military roadblocks mean that water tankers have to take longer routes, thus raising the price. NGOs who recently brought water to the area told CPT that it cost 35-40 NIS per m3 (1m3 = 1000 liters), three to six times higher than Israeli households pay. The World Health Organization estimates that the average, minimum daily water need per person is 60 liters. In addition, the villagers must provide water for their flocks, and a sheep requires a minimum of 5-7 liters of water per day.
Access to grazing land near At-Tuwani is limited by Israeli settlers from illegal settlements and outposts. The settlers steal and build on grazing land and attack and harass Palestinian herders. The low winter rainfall adversely affected the growth of the natural vegetation, and the planted crops, like barley and wheat, produced a very low harvest. The Palestinians, therefore, are forced to buy additional fodder for their animals: in the past 12 months fodder prices have tripled, while the market price for a sheep has nearly halved.
Palestinian access to grazing land is relentlessly restricted by the Israeli occupation. Since the occupation began in 1967, 21 percent of West Bank grazing land has been declared Israeli military zones and another 8 percent deemed nature reserves.
Palestinians, with support from a Spanish NGO, are building a new cistern in At-Tuwani to supply water to villages in the area in future years. The Israeli military issued a 'stop work order' (the first step in the demolition process) on 26 June, 2008. Representatives from the village met with the Israeli military authorities last week requesting that this order be rescinded. They have told CPT that they will appeal to the Israeli High Court if necessary.
CPT continues to accompany Palestinian herders as they graze on their traditional lands and resist Israeli army and settler harassment. Local and international NGOs are working to meet the humanitarian needs in the area by supplying water and fodder.
The UN's projections for the long-term effects of this year's drought on herding among Palestinians are severe:
The drought has had the most serious impact on the herd-dependent communities in the southern and south-eastern Hebron Governorate, the arid slopes east of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and the Jordan Valley (no less than 2500 households).
Families in these communities, and to a lesser extent herders everywhere in the West Bank, face deepening poverty and food insecurity, they are heavily in debt and therefore are under increasing pressure to sell their livestock Most herders report that even if they sold all their sheep at current prices they would not be able to clear their debts. Selling up would also mean they would have no source of future income. Prices for good quality barley fodder are at record high levels and cheaper alternative types of feed cause animal malnutrition resulting in a variety of health problems including high abortion and young lamb mortality rates. In addition to fodder, sheep need plentiful water and as the drought continues extra water must be bought.
Unless there is immediate support to herders with subsidized feed and water, many will be forced out of herding and the livelihood system that has supported them for centuries will be lost. They will no longer use traditional grazing lands and thus risk loosing access to them. ...
If herding as an option is not maintained, the majority of herding families will join the long aid lists. Given the limited skill range of most of the herders, the high levels of unemployment and general economic recession, the likelihood of such families returning to economic independence in the fore-seeable future is slight.
Report from Christian Peacemaker Teams Reprinted with Permission
Cross-Posted at Booman Tribune and Street Prophets