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Thursday, September 22, 2011
Need For Equitable Access To Water
By Anders Berntell and Anders Jägerskog
UN-supplied water tanks in Rafah refugee camp
September, when the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas,
presents the Palestinian bid for UN membership at the UN headquarters in New
York, many Palestinians worry as much about issues closer to their daily lives,
such as access to water.
shortage of water is evident in the entire Jordan River basin. The risk of
conflicts is increased by the high population growth, by the shrinking water
share per capita and by the vulnerability due to increased climatic variability,
resulting from climate change.
is necessary for the survival of the Palestinian farmer who needs to irrigate
his land to grow food to feed the family. A normal Palestinian family spends on
average 8 per cent of its income on buying freshwater, which is double the
internationally accepted norm and far more than what a normal family in the
northern hemisphere would pay.
the Israelis nor the Palestinians have access to sufficient water and the main
water resources are shared by the two. Israelis and Palestinians primarily
share groundwater that originates in the West Bank and then moves in aquifers
into Israel. As in the many cases where trans-boundary waters are regulated by
international agreements (as is the case between Israel and Jordan through the
1994 peace treaty), agreements between Israel and the Palestinians do exist.
The 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles and the 1995 so-called Oslo II address
the water issue to some extent. However, those agreements should be seen more
as roadmaps towards a final agreement between the two parties. Due to the
current political impasse, such an agreement is unlikely to be reached any time
part of the cooperation that has been institutionalised despite all challenges,
there is a so-called Joint Water Committee (JWC) tasked with managing water
issues that need to be addressed jointly. This committee has been meeting
throughout the last two decades which, in a sense, is an achievement in itself.
in one sense there is cooperation. Still, when analysing this cooperation, it
is clear that all is not just. Decisions are always taken by consensus, which
sounds fair. However, the mandate of the committee’s decision only extends to
projects in the West Bank, thus giving Israel a veto over Palestinian projects.
And should a project get approved by the JWC, it could still be stopped by the
Israeli Civil Administration on “security grounds”.
2009, the World Bank made an assessment of the Palestinian water sector which
concluded that Israel, through a variety of measures, has made it impossible
for the Palestinians to develop a water sector of their own. At the World Water
Week in Stockholm, in August 2011, the Palestinian water minister, Dr Shaddad
Attilli, voiced the increasing frustration of the Palestinians over their water
situation, asking the international community for help.
research on trans-boundary water relations in basins focuses not only on
established basic levels of cooperation, but also how this cooperation is
constructed. It emphasises how cooperation in a basin is often steered, or
manipulated, in line with the interests of the dominant part in the basin.
forces at play are not necessarily violent, but more often subtle, and can
happen under the general guise of cooperation. For example, it can be that
Israel stops (on alleged hydrologic/scientific grounds) Palestinian water
project in the JWC while admitting increased drilling for settlements, or that
they would build their wall/security barrier making central water sources end
up on the Israeli side.
are the future scenarios in this area? The prospect for increased cooperation
looks rather dim. The Palestinians are divided themselves, with Fateh in power
in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. And the Israelis are not likely to want to
enter into negotiations if the Palestinians succeed in their application for
formal UN membership.
both parties acknowledge that some level of coordination and cooperation is
necessary, the overall political conflict seems to make a deal on water more
unlikely than ever.
can the international community do? One thing would be to focus on getting more
countries to sign up to the UN Convention on transboundary waters. Another
would be to engage more actively in the basin and support the building of
negotiating capacity. In the short term, it is also imperative to support the
(re)building of Palestinian water infrastructure, which is often either
outdated or destroyed by the conflict.
should be given both to the planned desalination plant in Gaza and to
prospects for a breakthrough are at a low point, more effort - not less -
should be exerted to address this important issue.
-This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 22/09/2011
-Anders Berntell is executive director, Stockholm International Water Institute
(SIWI). Anders Jägerskog is director, Knowledge Services, SIWI