For West Bank Palestinians, Some Unclean Drops to Drink

by , June 11, 2009

FAQUA, Northern West Bank — Faqua village has found itself unfortunately named. Faqua in Arabic means spring water bubbles; the village was named after the abundant natural underground springs that were once found all around it. Today the people are on their own; the water springs have been taken over by Israel.

Faqua’s problems started in 1948 with the establishment of Israel, when 24,000 of Faqua’s 36,000 dunums of land (one dunum is 0.10 hectare) and most of the underground springs were appropriated by the new Jewish state.

After the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, the establishment of the joint Israeli-Palestinian Water Committee still left the Palestinians short of the necessary amount of water, according to a World Bank report published in April.

The West Bank is divided into Areas A, under full Palestinian control, Areas B, under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, and Areas C under full Israeli control. Faqua falls under Area C.

Palestinians living in Areas C have a notoriously hard time getting the necessary Israeli permits to either dig new wells or get connected to the Israeli company Mekorot’s water network.

"We have been waiting for a permit from the Israelis to install a water network since 2000," Dr. Amer Abu Farha, head of the village council told IPS. "But they refuse to give us one. We are also not allowed to dig deep wells or repair current wells. The Israeli settlements are allowed to dig wells far deeper than us, and to repair their other wells."

Faqua’s village council believes the Israelis have a deliberate policy to drive inhabitants out of the ten water-starved villages in the area due to their strategic significance.

Faqua, in the northern West Bank district of Jenin, sits atop a hill with panoramic views of the Jordan Valley. The village, about an hour’s drive north of Ramallah, is situated close to both the Syrian and Lebanese borders.

The village of about 5,000 residents is blighted by a security barrier set up by Israel that separates it from Maale Gilboa, a religious kibbutz that is home to 400 Israeli settlers.

The village is not connected to any piped supply. Instead Faqua has to rely on exorbitantly expensive water brought in by tankers. This water still does not meet the village’s needs.

Half of the village’s working age people are unemployed. Hundreds lost their jobs in Israel following the building of the barrier that separates the village from settlers’ land. Now they cannot get entrance permits to Israel.

Livestock has been reduced from 7,000 heads to 2,000 due to Israel’s expropriation of village land for the building of the barrier, and due to water shortage.

"We have a lot of health problems related to poor quality water which we have no choice but to drink," says Farha.

"We are uncertain about the water quality and where it comes from. A lot of children are suffering from diarrhea and other diseases related to fecal bacteria such as e-coli," Farha told IPS.

While villagers struggle with insufficient quantities of dirty water to drink, Maale Gilboa just 500 meters from Faqua’s perimeter is connected to Mekerot’s water network.

Sprinklers can be seen working hours daily, watering the lush agricultural plantations and gardens in the settlement.

According to a World Bank report released in April, Israel gets four times more water per capita than the Palestinians, who have access to only a fifth of the West Bank’s underground mountain aquifer.

"Unequal division of the resources, as well as constraints on information regarding the area’s water supply, have impeded the Palestinians’ ability to develop water sources," the World Bank report says.

"This has led to an emergency situation with grave ramifications for the economy, the society and the ecology of the PA (Palestinian Authority areas, in the West Bank). Water-related humanitarian crises are frequent in parts of the West Bank and Gaza."

The Palestinian water network is in a state of serious disrepair.

Fadel Ka’wash, head of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), says less than 1.8 million of the 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank are connected to a water network.

"Some 227,000 Palestinians currently have no access to piped water, while another 190,000 receive inadequate amounts due to faulty networks and water rationing," Ka’wash told IPS.

Getting Israeli permits to carry out repairs is time-consuming and a bureaucratic nightmare, and apparently a catch-22 situation.

"We were told by the Israelis that they would give us more water but that we needed to repair our network system first," said Dr. Ihab Barghouti from the project management unit of the PWA.

"It’s a vicious cycle. They refuse to supply more water until the infrastructure is upgraded, but refuse to issue the necessary permits for the upgrading to take place," Barghouti told IPS.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem says the average per capita consumption for household and urban use in the Palestinian communities is about 60 liters a day, while consumption in Israel is 280 liters a day.

Farha says his villagers get per capita about 30 liters a day. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 100 liters a day.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has declared a state of emergency in the ten villages. The Near East Council of Churches has stepped in meanwhile to provide urgent relief.

"We assessed the needs of those most urgently affected. The criteria were households with at least five dependents, an unemployed or under-employed head of household, and no source of water," said Ramzi Zananiri, executive director of The Near East Council of Churches Committee for Refugee Works.

"We have built 42 water cisterns in seven of the 10 villages listed as critical. The cisterns catch winter rainfall and can support a family for four months during the dry summers," Zananiri told IPS.

"We are currently supporting 45 families, or about 3,000 people. We hope to install more cisterns in the remaining three villages shortly." (Inter Press Service)

Read more by Mel Frykberg