Israel restricts water availability in West Bank and Gaza

As main donor, EU needs to address water problem.

In a new report released today, “Troubled Waters – Palestinians Denied Fair Access To Water”, (summary here) Amnesty International accuses Israel of deliberately restricting the availability of water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) thereby denying the right of access to water to Palestinians.

In its investigation, Amnesty International found that Israel uses more than 80% of the water from the Mountain Aquifer – the main source of underground water in Israel and the OPT – allowing Palestinians’ access to a mere 20%. At the same time, Israel prevents Palestinians from developing an effective water infrastructure.

As a result, Palestinian daily water consumption barely reaches 70 litres a day per person (well below the World Health Organisation’s recommended minimum of 100 litres). Israel consumes four times as much, with 300 litres per day, per capita.

“Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies.” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s researcher on Israel and the OPT.

In Gaza the situation is even more critical. More than 90% of the water from the coastal aquifer is now polluted. Given the ongoing blockade Israel prevents the entry of materials that are critical for repairing the water and sewage treatment facilities which Israel damaged or destroyed in the first place during Operation Cast Lead.

As the biggest donor to the Palestinians the European Commission has special responsibility to address this problem, namely to use its bilateral relations to urge Israel to immediately cease their discriminatory water access policies which are resulting in striking disparities and the denial of a basic human right.

In a letter (available here) Amnesty International also urged the EU to react whenever Israel compromises EU-funded projects, as was the case in January 2008 when Israel demolished nine rainwater cisterns in the West Bank. The cisterns were a vital part of an EU-funded agricultural project designed to improve food security.

“Currently the EU and other donors are simply not addressing these situations or the larger problem. They fail to confront Israel when projects are compromised and essentially focus on temporary solutions” said Natalia Alonso, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s EU Office. “It is time they coordinate positions and look at the big picture. Denying access to water is a serious human rights violation which needs to be addressed urgently” she added.

In some Palestinian villages – where people survive on barely 20 litres of water per day, the minimum amount recommended for domestic use in emergency situations – farmers have been unable to grow even small amounts of food for their personal consumption and have been forced to reduce the size of their herds. While they struggle to find enough water for their basic needs, the Israeli army often destroys their rainwater harvesting cisterns and confiscates their water tankers.

“Water is a basic need and a right, but for many Palestinians obtaining even poor-quality subsistence-level quantities of water has become a luxury that they can barely afford,” said Donatella Rovera. Amnesty International calls on the EU to use all bilateral relations with Israel, including through the EU missions in Tel Aviv, to urge Israeli authorities to:

• Lift the restrictions that deny Palestinians in the OPT access to their rights to water;
• Lift the blockade on Gaza and allow immediate entry of materials needed to repair the water and sanitation infrastructure;
• Take steps to improve coordination with other donors and in order to find a long term solutions.

For further comment/background and interviews:
Amnesty International EU Office (Brussels)
Tel: 32-2-5021499
Fax: 32-2-5025686
Email: [email protected]