Thirsting for a drink

By Returned EA Andy.  Andy recently returned to the UK after serving as an EA with EAPPI in Israel and occupied Palestine.

Water drips from the spout of a Bedouin water tank [Photo: EAPPI/Andy}

It’s a very hot day in a parched landscape, but it’s OK – my water bottle is still cool from the fridge. For Ali, the Bedouin farmer I am visiting, it’s not so easy. Like all the families in his small community, he regularly has to drive his tractor to another town and bring back his water by tanker. Along with over 70 per cent of Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank (the nearly two thirds that is under full Israeli control) they are not connected to a water network, and rely entirely on tankered water (UN data).

Going to the source: a sheep tries to get water direct from the tanker [Photo: EAPPI/Andy]

Ali buys water for his family and flock from Duma, a Palestinian village some four kilometres away. Water is a scarce resource for Palestinians, so the more you need each month, the more you pay per cubic metre. Watering his flock means that Ali pays the highest rate for his water, double what a small family in Duma would pay. Filling his water tank costs him some ₪30 shekels (about £7), but the cost in tractor fuel can add another ₪70, raising the total to over £22.

Water arriving into the community [Photo: EAPPI /Andy]

Water is a vital, but not rare, commodity in Palestine. Ramallah has a higher annual rainfall than London according to EWASH, an NGO working to improve the water situation for Palestinians. Israel exercises almost total control over the water provision in Area C, whether supplying its own illegal settlements or Palestinian towns and villages. The Mountain Aquifer lies under the West Bank, from which Israel extracts 87 per cent of the water for its own use.

A heavily protected Israeli water installation in the Jordan Valley [Photo: EAPPI /Andy]

When Bedouin communities had freedom of movement and access to water resources they used the natural springs throughout the area. Due to movement, planning and water access restrictions imposed by the occupation, Bedouin communities now tend to stay in one place. Even where a spring is right beside their community, they can be fined by the Israeli authorities for attempting to take even small quantities of water from it. Articles 54 and 55 of the Geneva Conventions explicitly prohibit the denial of water supplies to a civilian population under occupation. In 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as an essential human right.

A natural spring in the Jordan Valley. Bedouin are fined if they attempt to take any of this water [Photo: EAPPI/Andy]

Water is now a scarce and expensive resource for Palestinians. The Palestinian Water Authority estimates that where Israelis living in illegal settlements spend just 0.9 per cent of their monthly expenditure on water, Palestinians spend on average 8 per cent. Worldwide, the figure is 3.5 per cent. Palestinians on average consume just under 80 litres of water per person, per day. For Israeli citizens, the comparable figure is almost 300 litres per day. (The World Health Organisation recommends 100 litres per day.)  The lush and green, but illegal, Israeli plantations that are gradually spreading across the otherwise arid landscape of the Jordan Valley are the most visible evidence of this imbalance.

A Bedouin tent in the Jordan Valley, with Israeli settlement plantation behind [Photo: EAPPI/Andy]

The Bedouin of the West Bank are forced to be even more careful than other Palestinians. Their average water consumption can be as little as 20 litres per day, and yet they pay some 400 per cent more per litre for clean water (EWASH figures).

Some of Ali’s Bedouin community, with the village of Duma in the distance [Photo: EAPPI/Andy]

Ali is resigned to the situation: “We would love to be able to go back to our old ways and take water from the land as necessary; now it’s harder each year to find the money to buy the water we need.”

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Ali and sons in their Bedouin tent [Photo: EAPPI/Andy]