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Eaux, pauvreté et crises sociales

Habib Ayeb
Thierry Ruf

Atelier 1. Représentations des relations entre eaux et pauvreté

Introduction to water poverty and social crisis in Hebron district Palestine

Qasem Abu Dayyeh

Texte intégral

1Hebron district is located at the southern part of West Bank (figure 1). Its total population is half a million and its total land area is 1,036 km2 which makes it the biggest district in West Bank. After the war of 1948, the district lost 50% of its original land area to Israel. Once the Annexation and Expansion Wall plan has been completed, another 50 km2 (about 5% of the district land area) will have been lost. There are 25 Israeli colonies in Hebron district, with a total population of 13,000 Israelis. Colonies occupy 5.3 km2 (about 0.5% of the district's total area).

Figure 1. Map of West Bank

Climate, vegetation and land use

2The district has arid and semi-arid climate. Elevation ranges from 100m to 1,021m above sea level. The general topography is hilly to sloppy at the western and eastern parts of the district. As regards temperatures the average in winter is 5.8 centigrade and 22 centigrade in summer. Climate variety is caused by topographic variety.

3Hebron district has a Mediterranean climate and has about four rainy months (December – March). The average annual rainfall in the western part of the district varies from 300 mm in the south to 500 mm in the north. In the eastern part, it varies from 100 mm to 200 mm. In the heartland mountainous area, the average annual rainfall varies from 500 to 700 mm. The latter average is higher than that of the most famous grain-producing countries, yet the problem here is the non-equal distribution of rainfall throughout the months of the year and the long period of summer time (dry season). About 65% of annual rainfall occurs during the months of December, January and February.

4Evaporation is principally strong in summer as a result of high temperature, intensive sunshine and low humidity. In the western part of the district, the evaporation rate is around 1,700 mm per year while in the eastern part its is around 1,900 mm per year. Evaporation decreases to 1,500 mm per year in the heartland mountainous area. The annual volume of precipitation in Hebron district is 390,720,450 m3. The annual volume of rainfall that infiltrates to underground water is 105,494,521.5 m3. The annual volume of runoff is 15,785,106.18 m3, while 2,096,822 m3 are coming out through springs and dug wells and 103,397,699.5 m3 infiltrate to the deeper groundwater aquifers.

5Out of the total area of 1,036 km2, arable land amounts to 257.12 km2 and mainly supported grains. The irrigated area which mainly supported vegetables is only 2.5 km2 or approximately 0.2% of the total area. The area of permanent crops, such as grapes, olives, citrus and other fruits is 108.05 km2. The area of urban areas is 78.46 km2 or approximately 7.6% of the total. Woodland and forests represents approximately 0.8% of the total area or about 8.5 km2.

6The very low figure above regarding irrigated area clearly reflects the water problem in the district.

Current water situation

Available water resources

7Palestinians in Hebron district get water from the following sources:

  1. Locally: from springs, dug wells and cisterns.

  2. Purchased: from the Israeli Mekharot water company despite the fact that the great portion of water is taken from the West Bank aquifers and resold to Palestinians.

8Table 1 shows that the average per capita in Hebron district is 64 liter per person per day. Out of this quantity about 30-40% go to agriculture, industry or are lost due to network leakage or stealing. Therefore, the remaining amount for domestic use do not exceed 30 liter per person per day, especially during the dry summer time (from May to October). It is a stunning figure and it is significantly below the 100 liters per day recommended by the World Health Organization as the minimum.

Table 1. Total Available Water Sources and Output per Capita

Table 1. Total Available Water Sources and Output per Capita

9On the contrary, Israel’s per capita water use is approximately 350 liter per capita/day, or five times that of Palestinians while Israeli colonists who live in the occupied Hebron district consume six times as much water as Palestinians. Relevant research has shown that, historically, the Israelian water company Mekharot has applied a system of pricing whereby Palestinians are charged exorbitant rates while Israeli settlers occupying land in the Territories enjoy a lower pricing scheme. Whereas settlers pay $0.40 per m3 for domestic consumption and a highly subsidized rate of $0.16 per m3 for agricultural use, Palestinians pay a standard rate of $1.20 per m3 for their piped water.

10Significant price increases that have occurred over the last five years have dramatic impacts on consumers when the decrease in employment and income is taken into consideration; income is decreasing while costs are increasing. High prices coupled with rising un-employment ensure problems; in some areas of Hebron district the percentage of families unable to pay water bills is as high as 100%.

Water conveyance

11The total number of communities in Hebron district is 145 (cities, towns, villages, refugee camps and Bedouin camps). According to LRC field work, only 73 communities have water network coverage (almost half). 22 communities out of the 73 are having a 100% water network coverage (about 30% of the total or 15% of the total number of communities in the district). For the rest of communities, the average network coverage is 50%.

12Only two thirds of the served communities enjoy constant water flow, while the rest suffer short, medium and long water stoppages due to the lack of quantities from source. The average water network age in served communities is 25 years. The water network conditions in 18 communities are classified as leaking (24%). The water network conditions in 29 communities are classified as good (42%). The water network conditions in 26 communities are classified as bad (35%).

13Regarding communities who don't have water network coverage or limited coverage they have to buy water from mobile tanks at high prices or depend on collected rainfall in their cisterns or get water from springs.

Israeli water power

14The most important obstacle for Palestinians is the inability to get control over their water resources. This has been due to the following:

1. Dependency on the Israeli water supplier, Mekharot company, which routinely cuts services and limits supply. Moreover, many rural communities that rely on Mekharot for their water supply are forced to seek additional sources, such as tankers, cisterns and springs because the amount supplied by Mekharot alone is insufficient to meet even their basic needs.

2. Tight closures on the city of Hebron, towns, villages and refugee camps by the means of checkpoints, cement blocks, earth mounds, iron gates and trenches and the expanded implementation of permit and regulation systems result in the inability of water tankers, in many cases a primary water source, to reach their destination. Closures, checkpoints and curfew have had a devastating impact on nearly every aspect of Palestinian daily life. Routinely imposed by the Israeli Occupation forces, these measures are often employed as collective punishment, or simply as a means of further humiliation and destabilization. As a result of these harsh policies, numerous communities in Hebron district have been left without food, work and/or water and other necessities for days, weeks or even months. With regards to the water sector in particular, these restrictions impose incredible barriers on tankers’ access to communities. Water tankers have become an especially vital source of water to many Palestinian communities in light of reductions from Mekharot and insufficient water networks. In addition, the restrictions hinder the availability of wastewater and sewage removal, block passage of maintenance teams en route to repair water and wastewater infrastructure.

15Increased difficulties related to travel and water transport, of course, also have economic consequences (photo 1). Water tanker drivers are well aware of the risks in their job due to travel, and the various restrictions along their route that may either deem their destination unreachable or put them in danger of arrest or worse. Such conditions equate to unavoidable price increases imposed on an already deeply ailing economy (consumer have to pay an average of 100 NIS per 10 M3).

Photo 1. Water tank descending an earth mound set up by the Israeli army on the road to Yatta (August, 2003)

Photo 1. Water tank descending an earth mound set up by the Israeli army on the road to Yatta (August, 2003)

3. Destruction of primary and secondary water lines in many Palestinian communities by the Israeli army bulldozers.

4. Demolition of many cisterns and pools in Hebron district under the pretext of unlicensing or for security reasons. During the current Intifada, more than one hundred cistern and pools have been demolished in Hebron district. Roof tanks are either a deliberate target or are caught in the line of excessive gunfire from Israeli occupation forces. Hundreds of roof tanks have been damaged by Israeli gunfire.

5. Springs and tankers are also a target of the Israeli army during military incursions.

6. Colonists' violence and destruction are another serious concern facing Palestinian communities. In light of the near impunity granted to Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza, it is not uncommon that settlers wreak havoc on Palestinian communities. Attacks are widely viewed as strategic actions taken to force the expulsion of Palestinian communities in order to enable settlement expansion and land/resource confiscation. In regards to water, a number of cisterns, wells and springs have been poisoned or contaminated at the hands of Israeli colonists living in Hebron district.

7. Denial of infrastructure development and maintenance within Palestinian communities (refusing permits, banning drilling of wells, pumping quotas, etc.). As far as the water crisis is concerned, Palestinians are not allowed to dig new wells in their areas because of Israeli fears that subterranean water resources might be affected. But the real purpose, Palestinians argue, is Israel's intention to keep its hand on the taps. Whoever's hand on the tap can control the fine details of other people's daily life. Israel is imposing a general siege on the PNA areas and allows herself to decide how many glasses of water Palestinians are allowed, or rather unallowed, to drink.

Pollution sources

16The range of potential pollution sources is unfortunately vast, though among the most frequently reported are nearby dumping sites, waste and sewage from colonies specifically (including Israeli military bases and industrial sites) open wastewater, sewage flow (where the source is not always specified, though could include colonies as well as nearby towns and cities), wastewater flow and percolation pits. Other reported pollution sources include factors such as solid waste sites, coal and industrial production, animal waste and the consistent burning of plastic and garbage (due largely to insufficient ability to evacuate it).

17Only two thirds of the city of Hebron are served by sewage network. In addition, there are only three villages in the district which are partially served with sewage networks: Kharas, Nuba and Deir Samit. The rest of communities uses house cesspools (percolation pits) as a means of getting rid of waste water which seriously causes ecological hazards to underground water and environment.

Health situation

18Given the intrinsic relationship between water, sanitation and community hygiene, it can be no surprise that public health among Palestinians has suffered drastically as a result of the Occupation and recent antagonism. The forced usage of “alternative” contaminated water sources, inadequate sewage and waste control as well as the inability to implement a regulatory water infrastructure have led to a sharp rise in water-related diseases. Skin infections, diarrhea and amoeba are widespread in many communities in Hebron district. In addition, 7 communities reported high incidents of cancer, which may or may not be related to water and/or sanitation conditions, but should warrant further investigation.

19In the past five years of intensified closures, movement restrictions, military incursions, destruction of infrastructure and unprecedented unemployment, have all severely impacted Palestinian health and access to healthcare. A situation that was hardly sufficient prior to the Intifada has become significantly worse, as health is intricately linked to the social conditions that have deteriorated in Hebron district. Despite the valiant efforts of hospital staff and medical personnel to attend to those in need and certainly, the number of those in need has grown over the course of the Intifada, the barriers to providing and receiving healthcare are great. In addition to direct attacks on health infrastructure and access to healthcare, devastation within the water sector also lead to increased disease and insufficient sanitation. There is strong evidence that the spread of disease in many communities is linked to the forced use of “alternative”, contaminated water sources, insufficient or no water treatment, absence of wastewater networks and/or blocked access to waste removal, polluted water sources and/or sewage flow and contamination from nearby colonies. Of course, these conditions are compounded by closures and the consequent inability to reach medical care.

Implications of the Wall construction between Israel and the West Bank

20The Wall isolates people from wells and water sources which are located on the “other side” of the Wall (be it western or eastern). It isolates lands which are in need of water for irrigation and damages or destroys wells, cisterns, reservoirs and/or water pipes. It interrupts water pipe routes which cannot be rerouted because of the Wall’s construction. It blocks transport of water via tankers and blocks access to Public Health Centers and medical assistance.

Urgent findings and recommendations

1. A complete and comprehensive end to the Occupation, including the Palestinian control and rights over their water resources, in addition to the full removal of the Wall, are the basic solutions to all problems related to water in Hebron district.

2. Ample and good quality water, at least of the minimum quantities assigned by the World Health Organization, must immediately be made available to all Palestinian communities.

3. All checkpoints, fixed and mobile, must be removed in order to assure access to necessary water supply and other resources.

4. All colonies must be dismantled in order to return Palestinian land and resources to their control, and remove the problem of wastewater production and flow which is damaging the environment and polluting ground water resources. In the interim, there must be an immediate solution to the flow of wastewater and industrial waste coming from colonies.

5. All communities currently unconnected with water and wastewater networks, or with networks that are not functioning, must be equipped with functioning networks. Cisterns should only be seen as a secondary tool for water management since, in most cases, the quantity of water is only enough for part of the year (basically during winter time).

6. Water quality of all sources, networks and households must be routinely tested and monitored in all Palestinian communities and improved where unacceptable.

7. Solid waste must be removed from all temporary dumping sites currently being used by nearly all Palestinian communities. Sanitary landfills must be constructed as an alternative.

8. Public Health Centers must be established in all Palestinian communities, especially in light of current checkpoints and closures affecting individuals’ ability to get basic medical care especially during emergency cases.

9. Until rights over water management are handed back to Palestinian control, the Israeli Mekharot Water Company must increase supply levels in light of community needs and population increases. Mekharot Water Company's “normal” water quantities to Palestinian communities have been the same since 1967 until before the beginning of the Intifada in September 2000, when the Company began reducing the supplied quantities and even completely stopping supply in some cases. Taking into consideration the increase in population, needs and standard of living, the “normal” quantities must be increased.

10. Construction of the Wall must be stopped immediately, sections already built must be dismantled and people must be compensated for damage to land and resources. The Wall is a new version of an old plan, based on discrimination and land and resource confiscation. The Western Aquifer, located almost entirely in the West Bank and among the most valuable water resources in the region, must remain under Palestinian control in order to ensure consistent water supply to Palestinians.

11. Promoting rained farming in the district is another tool for increasing water quantity in the district. Despite the immense quantities of water that are used by Israel for agriculture, this sector contributes 2.4% to the GNP while in Palestine agriculture contributes 30% to the GNP. The agricultural sector employs 3.3% of the working force in Israel compared to 25% of the working force in Palestine. Optimization of water use for irrigation, development of rainfed farming, cultivating low-water consuming crops, and reducing water subsidies by Israel are effective trends for proper use of water in the water-scarce area of the Middle East.

12. Specifically, three issues – water equity, increasing water supplies and appropriate water utilization – should be considered within a single formula. To reiterate: the water crisis is not one of insufficient supply, but of an uneven and inequitable distribution which is aggravated by inappropriate consumption practices.

13. Improving water conveyance systems and water distribution service to international standards may also assist in conserving water. Water networks in most Palestinian communities are old and deteriorating causing a water loss due to leaking. This water loss is estimated at 40% of the water passing through these systems. As a priority, the maintenance of the existing water networks is therefore essential and may save Palestinians additional water quantities and provide efficient utilization of the available resources.

14. Increases in service levels must be accompanied with programs targeting conservation and awareness to meet projected demands and to emphasize efficiency in utilization. Low-flush toilets, for example, can significantly reduce water volumes consumed.

15. It is essential to create an infrastructure in the district which would enable a sound and integrated management of the available water resources. Information is a key factor in this process. Establishing water monitoring stations and an information networks which would feed the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) with vital data required for planning and policy formulation is a priority. A multi-disciplinary water information database which is integrated with a powerful Geographic Information System (GIS) could also provide the PWA with tools for analysis and planning. Such system could allow the modeling of ground and surface water in regard to quality and quantities, through which outcomes for proposed water projects and policies can be projected and evaluated. Social and economic factors could as well be integrated in the system to display a comprehensive and inclusive representation of the water sector in the district.

16. Promoting the capacity building of the regional parties in the area of integrated water management.

17. Promoting the participation of water planners, distributors and users in the district in decision making.

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1. Map of West Bank
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Titre Table 1. Total Available Water Sources and Output per Capita
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Titre Photo 1. Water tank descending an earth mound set up by the Israeli army on the road to Yatta (August, 2003)
Fichier image/jpeg, 35k


Geographer. Land Research Centre, Hebron – Palestine

© IRD Éditions, 2009

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