Sunday, September 23, 2012

Two pipes for two peoples: The politics of water in the West Bank

The 's Civil Administration is preventing the Palestinian Authority from laying a water pipe that would alleviate the acute water shortage for more than 600,000 Palestinians in the West Bank.

The reason given for preventing the pipe's construction is that a section of less than two kilometers of it, laid on the margins of Route 50, would disrupt passenger traffic on the road.

The annual water amount provided to the district is about 20 million cubic meters - some 90 liters per capita per day. A considerable part of the water is lost on the way due to leaks and faulty connections.

The district needs an additional 13 million cubic meters a year for domestic use, apart from farming. From May to October the water to the Palestinians in the area is severely rationed. Some neighborhoods have water for a few hours once a week, others twice a month or less.

Banal functions such as house cleaning and laundry all depend on the water supply. Every day some 400 tankers transfer water from central depots to hospitals, factories, schools and other public facilities in the region.

About half the water amount to the district comes from springs and wells. The PA buys the other half from the Israeli water company . Some 10,000 cubic meters a day - more than a third of the amount bought from - are funneled from the Dir Sha'ar (Etzion junction ) pumping depot in an 11 kilometer pipe.

About half the water is lost on the way, Mekorot's monthly invoices show. The Palestinians pay the amount registered at the depot, minus the water the pipe provides the Carmei Zur settlement (about 100 cubic meters a day ). The water meters in the Palestinian neighborhoods show that the amount actually supplied to the Palestinians is much smaller.

The PA has been planning to replace the pipe since 2008, with the financing of the United states Agency for International Development.

The pipe, built by in 1972, loses 45-50 percent of the water flowing in it due to deterioration, illegal connections, bad construction and faulty installation, the American construction company MWH wrote in its project description.

Much of the water flowing in the pipe, which passes under residential and farming areas, is stolen, especially for farming. The water quality is unsafe, the company wrote.

The Palestinian water authority and MWH planned a new route alongside the road, to prevent hooking up to the pipe illegally. A new, wider pipe would reduce leaks and ensure the water's quality, they said. Mekorot agreed to increase the water amount to the Hebron district by 5,000 cubic meters a day.

Palestinian water tanks destroyed by settlers in Hebron
The project was approved by the joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee in August 2010, as required by the Oslo agreement.

The Civil Administration had to approve the route, located in Area C. Finally it was agreed to lay nine kilometers of the pipe alongside an existing farm route, leaving 1.9 kilometers of pipe along Route 60. "This is necessary to avoid destroying two houses and fatally damaging vineyards," an engineer said.

But the Civil Administration refused "because the construction would disrupt the Jewish drivers' traffic," the Palestinian engineer said.

"When they do maintenance work on other roads in the West Bank, don't they disrupt the traffic?" he asked.

Like all Hebron neighborhoods, Jabar, located in Area H2 (in Israeli jurisdiction ) has water only once every few weeks. Some of the residents' front doors and windows have been sealed and the alleys in the neighborhood are blocked. Only Israeli vehicles to and from the Jewish homes in ancient Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs are allowed to travel there. Water tankers to the Palestinian houses are not allowed and the residents use water holes. More