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Palestinian residents in West Bank facing severe water crisis

Mohammed Abu Qassem and his son pumping water from their tank to the roof of one of the residential buildings in Ramallah. (Photo/Mohammed Najib)
Mohammed Abu Qassem and his son pumping water from their tank to the roof of one of the residential buildings in Ramallah. (Photo/Mohammed Najib)
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19 Jul 2022 04:07:28 GMT9
19 Jul 2022 04:07:28 GMT9
  • Desperate villagers fear shortages could lead to further conflict with Israel

Mohammed Najib

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian village surrounded by three Israeli settlements and an Israel Defense Forces military camp is in the grip of a severe water crisis, community leaders have revealed.

Nearly 3,500 residents of Duma village in Jordan Valley in the northern West Bank are struggling to find enough drinking water to meet their basic needs and sustain livestock. And many of them cannot afford the $100 cost of buying a water tank.

Suleiman Dawabsheh, head of Duma village council, told Arab News that local residents received just 1,280 cups of water per week, and that four nearby Bedouin communities also relied on Duma for water supplies.

He said: “They call us the thirsty village due to the small amount of water that reaches us and the small amount of rain that falls annually, which does not exceed 420 millimeters.”

Dawabsheh claimed that settlers had prevented them from rehabilitating four springs in the village that could have contributed to alleviating the water shortage.

“We have large numbers of livestock that consume vast quantities of water, especially this summer that has been hotter than previous ones, and as a result we cannot find enough water for human use and watering sheep.”

Duma is just one example of many Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank — where 3 million people live — suffering from a lack of water.

Meanwhile, many of the 700,000 people living in Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank are thought to have access to plentiful supplies of water for drinking, filling swimming pools, irrigating crops, and washing vehicles.

Huge black-and-white plastic water tanks are a common sight on the rooftops of Palestinian homes as a backup for when taps run dry for weeks at a time, but the containers are rarely seen in neighboring Israeli settlements where water is available around the clock.

Israeli authorities have been accused of syphoning off 85 percent of Palestinian water and then re-selling it to them, while also refusing license applications to drill additional wells or install booster pumps.

Bassam Darwish, a supervisor of five residential and commercial buildings in Ramallah housing around 65 apartments and stores, told Arab News that this year’s water crisis had been worse than last year as the number of hours and days of pumping water to citizens’ homes had been reduced. Sometimes, he said, water could take up to 10 days to reach the area.

“Every day, I receive inquiries from residents in the buildings under my responsibility, and they all ask me when the water will arrive? Why is the water cut off? I do not have an answer for them, and some residents ask me for the phone number of the owner of a water tank to buy a tank at his expense,” he added.

Darwish pointed out that supplies had been dwindling since April.

Thirty-four of the 42 water wells controlled by Israel’s national water company Mekorot were on Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian Authority has requested that Israel increase the amount of water sold to the West Bank, but the Israelis claim the Palestinian water infrastructure was not capable of handling larger quantities.

Mahmoud Barham, mayor of Beita, south of Nablus, said his town of 15,000 people was only receiving 50 percent of its water requirements.

“We need 2,400 cups of water, but Mekorot supplies us with only 120 cups and pumps them to our town intermittently. For eight years, the company has refused to increase the amount of water, despite the large increase in the population of the town,” he added.

He noted that the Israeli authorities would not allow digging for water wells on land belonging to the village.

Bassam Al-Sawalhi, director of operations at the Jerusalem Water Undertaking, told Arab News that he was still able to provide the 380,000 residents of Ramallah and Al-Bireh areas with their basic water needs, despite constraints. And he said the authority was seeking to rehabilitate water wells around Ramallah in a bid to alleviate the crisis.

Although the average daily water consumption rate was between 60,000 and 65,000 cubic meters during the summer, Al-Sawalhi pointed out that the Jerusalem Water Undertaking could only supply 53,000 cubic meters a day to its customers.

Mekorot has reduced supplies to 32,000 cubic meters per day from 38,000 in previous years and has been accused of transferring the difference to Israeli settlements around Ramallah.

On July 1, dozens of Palestinian youths closed the southern entrance to Bethlehem in protest at water shortages in the city.

But Israeli authorities maintain it is the job of the Palestinian Authority to provide its citizens with water. Al-Sawalhi claimed that Israel delivered an additional 76 million cubic meters of water per year, using 200 connection points.

One Palestinian resident of Ramallah, Mohammed Abu Qassem, who owns a water tank, told Arab News that his mobile phone never stopped ringing with residents and owners of cafes, restaurants, and hotels offering to buy his tank.

He said the current situation would probably not ease until the beginning of November. “I think the next war between the Palestinians and the Israelis will be a war over water, not just land,” he added.

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