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Israeli settlements aggravate Palestine’s water crisis, says PWA head

By Mays Ibrahim Mustafa - Nov 03,2022 - Last updated at Nov 03,2022

Israel controls over 85 per cent of Palestinian water resources, according to Head of the Palestinian Water Authority Mazen Ghoneim (Photo by Amjad Ghsoun)

AMMAN — Head of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) Mazen Ghoneim said that the “unprecedented” and “rapid” increase in the number of Israeli settlements in Palestine is compounding the water crisis. 

“The location of the settlements, which are established over stolen Palestinian lands, is strategically chosen by the Israeli occupation to be near underground and surface water resources, which makes achieving water security impossible,” he said in an interview with The Jordan Times on Wednesday. 

Israel controls over 85 per cent of Palestinian water resources, according to Ghoneim.

He also noted that water pipes supplying Palestinian territories from area C, which covers over 60 per cent of the West Bank and is under Israeli control, are worn out and “intentionally destroyed by occupation forces”, who don’t allow the PWA to perform the maintenance necessary for preventing leaks.

He added that the water pipes of the Israeli national water company Mekorot, which supply the Palestinian territories, are also damaged and neglected.

This directly affects all Palestinian regions by increasing the “already high” water deficit levels, he continued, noting that Israeli per capita water consumption is five times higher than that of Palestinians. 

“The per capita water share in Palestinian territories is theoretically 83 litres per day, but if we take into consideration the water losses from the assaults on the water transmission and distribution systems, that quantity decreases to around 30 litres per day,” he said. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “between 50 and 100 liters of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise”.

Ghoneim also pointed out that “water security, which is the cornerstone of national security, directly impacts all sectors and aspects of development” and its absence can fuel conflict and instability by leading to “the proliferation of poverty, crime and unemployment”.

The agricultural sector in particular suffers greatly from the repercussions of these infringements, posing serious threats to food security in Palestine, he added. 

“Palestinian farms lack the minimum amount of water needed to cover their irrigation needs, while illegal settlers enjoy an abundance of water supply due to the unequal distribution of resources,” Ghoneim continued. 

The critical lack of water, “which was the most crucial and only weapon in the fight against COVID-19”, also aggravated the pandemic’s repercussions and took a toll on the healthcare sector due to the lack of hygiene and sanitation services, he said, noting that “lockdowns have increased daily water consumption and demand by roughly 15 per cent”. 

The current yearly water deficit in the Palestinian territories amounts to over 150 million cubic metres a year, 70 million of which are concentrated in the West Bank. Gaza bears the majority of the water shortage burden, according to Ghoneim.

He also said that due to the water sector’s high level of electricity consumption, the PWA has taken steps towards relying on alternative energy sources. The use of alternative energy could provide cheap sources of power for the milling and pumping of water as well as the desalination and treatment of wastewater. 

“Our goal is to cover 50 to 60 per cent of the electricity consumption in Palestinian territories through alternative energies,” he added, stressing that this step has become necessary due to climate change.

“The Middle East and North Africa [MENA] is among the most vulnerable places in the world to climate change, which requires constant cooperation and coordination between countries in the region in order to implement clear plans and make joint decisions to counter this issue,” Ghoneim said.

He also noted that there’s “constant cooperation and coordination between the PWA and the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation” regarding future projects to ensure water security in both countries, which share surface water resources. 

Palestine also has a number of water security agreements with neighbouring Arab countries, a result of the Arab Ministerial Council for Water, according to Ghoneim.

“We always work on enhancing the spirit of joint Arab action in addressing the water crisis on a regional level,” he said.

The issue of the deficit in Palestine is “political”, Ghoneim said, and as such demands “supporting its position against the Israeli monopolisation of natural resources in Palestine, which violates the rights of its people and breaches international treaties and covenants on the matter”.

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