Water Resources in Palestine

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Understanding the Water Resources

The water resources available in the West Bank are very different from the water resources available in Gaza.

Follow these links to understand the water resources in Palestine.

 

Water Resources in Gaza

Mountain Aquifer

Jordan River

Mekorot Supply

Springs

Excerpt from LifeSource's March 2012 report, The Human Right to Water in Palestine, published by Blue Planet, a project of the Council of Canadians.

Understanding the Water Resources

The water resources available in the West Bank are very different from the water resources available in Gaza.

The Coastal Aquifer

In Gaza the Coastal Aquifer is basically the only source of ‘freshwater’, although it is highly polluted and the salinity level is sharply increasing.  Up to 95% of the 116 municipal supply wells in Gaza that tap into the aquifer produce water that isn’t fit for human consumption.[i]  Since 2005 Israel has damaged or destroyed more than 300 wells in a “buffer zone” unilaterally imposed by Israel inside of the territory of Gaza.[ii]  Currently the people of Gaza must desalinate the brackish water supplied by municipal wells, but the ongoing siege levied by Israel and the international community is preventing entry of parts, chemicals and materials needed to properly treat the water so that it may be drinkable.

It is important to note that according to international water law Gaza has a right to an equitable and reasonable share of water from the Coastal Aquifer within Israel.  Also, it is important to note that Gaza is a city and is best supplied like other cities.  Most cities like New York, London, Geneva or Jerusalem (all of which have far more humid climates) are not supplied from within city boundaries.  Yet for years Israel’s position has been that the city of Gaza ought to focus on highly expensive, unsustainable, easily disrupted and un-ecological fossil-fuel-fired desalination plants.  The Palestinian Authority position in recent years has been conforming to this Israeli position, despite the advice of hydrological experts and Palestinian rights under international law.

The Mountain Aquifer and the Western Aquifer Basin

By contrast the West Bank lies in a mostly sub-humid climate where bountiful rainfall provides for high groundwater recharge rates into the shared Mountain Aquifer, which consists of three basins – the Eastern, North-Eastern and Western Aquifer Basins.  Among these three basins the Western Aquifer Basin or Western Aquifer is the purest and most abundant ground water reserve in the region.  Israel has prevented Palestinians from drilling a single new well in the Western Aquifer since 1967.

According to a World Bank study, “about 85% of the recharge of the Western Aquifer is in the West Bank.”[iii]  But the Israeli military is limiting Palestinians to a mere 6% of this precious resource.  If Palestinians had access to only half of the sustainable yield of this aquifer, Palestinians’ total water supply in the West Bank would double.[iv]

The Jordan River

Israel controls 100% of the waters of the Jordan River.[v]  Israel diverts the lower Jordan River to Israel’s coastal plain and then to the Negev desert in the south, with major repercussions today for the health of the ecosystem,[vi] peace in the region, and access to water for many Palestinians and Jordanians,[vii] who have depended upon this resource for centuries.  In the 1967 Six Days War and shortly afterwards, Israel destroyed or confiscated all 140 pumping stations on the east and west banks of the Jordan River.[viii]

Mekorot supply

Palestinians in the West Bank purchase more than half of their domestic water supply from the Israeli National Water Company Mekorot.  Mekorot also supplies the vast majority of water consumed by illegal settlements from wells inside of Israel and from the 42 wells that it controls and operates in the West Bank in violation of international law.  Being dependent upon water supply from Israel leaves Palestinians in a highly vulnerable position.  Mekorot frequently cuts water supply to Palestinian villages and neighborhoods.  While it is true that Israel is selling Palestinians far more water than it is obligated to sell to Palestinians according to the 1995 Oslo II Article 40 water agreement, it is also true that Israel is preventing Palestinians from developing additional quantities of water from new Palestinian wells approved under Oslo.[ix]  Israel’s obstruction of Palestinian water development has forced Palestinians into a state of dependence upon purchasing water from Israel.

So it is that the water-rich West Bank is increasingly dependant on supply by Israel, while the water-poor Gaza has to look for its own water from the sea.


[i] Today, the chloride levels are greater than 250 mg/l.  It is important to note that the British Hydrological Service observed overpumping of the Coastal Aquifer in 1933 before the territory became overcrowded as a result of the 1948 War.

 

 

 

[ii] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (August 2010) “Between the Fence and a Hard Place: The humanitarian impact of Israeli-imposed restrictions on access to land and sea in the Gaza Strip.” http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_special_focus_2010_08_19_english.pdf

 

 

 

[iii] World Bank (2009), p. 35.

 

 

 

[iv] The “estimated potential” of the Western Aquifer at the time of Oslo was 362 million cubic meters. According to the Israeli Water Authority, total water supply to Palestinians today is 180 million cubic meters annually in the West Bank.  Israel Water Authority (April, 2009), “The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians,” (p. 15).

 

 

 

[v] The diversion of the Jordan River is a central feature of Israel’s National Water Carrier.  Mekorot, the Israeli national water company was the contractor for this project, completed in 1957.

 

 

 

[vi] Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon are diverting tributaries to the Jordan River within their territories, which is also contributing to the reduction in flow of the Jordan River.

 

 

 

[vii] While Israel is occupying Syrian territory to control the Jordan River system including the Sea of Galillee and its tributaries in the Golan Heights, Israel’s diversion of the Jordan River doesn’t have a major impact on access to water in Syria.

[viii] Palestinian Authority Department of Environment (2006), “Right to Water in the Arab Occupied Territories,” p.2; and, Alice Gray (2007), “Environmental Dimensions of Zionism in the Negev and West Bank,” Babylon Journal on the Middle East and North Africa, Volume 5, September 2007.

[ix] Israel agreed to allow Palestinians to develop additional quantities of water as “immediate needs” to be realized before the year 2000, as well as “future needs.”  While Israel is indeed selling Palestinians more than they are obligated to sell, it is also the case that little over half of the additional quantities that Palestinians were promised to be able to develop as “immediate needs” have actually been realized today[ix] and Israel is currently withholding approval for 82 well drilling projects that would allow Palestinians the quantities approved under Oslo.  World Bank (2009), p. 36.