Scant Water Cripples Palestinian Farming

Ziyad Sawafta gets only enough water to plant half of his 125-acre (50 hectare) plot in Bardala in the northern Jordan Valley.

"We get only the ear from the whole camel," Sawafta, 60, told Reuters on Thursday, September 18, using a common Arab saying to illustrate how little water he receives.

"The rest of the camel goes to the settlements," added the father of four, pointing to the thriving citrus grove next door, owned by the Jewish settlement of Mehola.

The Palestinian Water Authority estimates a shortage of 40-70 million cubic meters in the West Bank.

"People and land are thirsty and we can do little about it," said Water Authority Chief Shaddad Attili.

Israel controls some 50 West Bank wells, with a total capacity of 50 million cubic meters per year.

Palestinian officials accuse Israel of using the water wells to serve Jewish settlements, which house some 250,000 settlers.

The Palestinians control about 200 shallow wells in the West Bank, with a capacity of 105 million cubic meters per year to supply water to 2.5 million people.

"That is not fair," said Attili.

Water has long been a scarce resource in the Middle East.

But the problem gets more acute this year because of scant rainfall and Israeli restrictions.

Per capita consumption of water in the West Bank now stands at 66 liters a day, about two-thirds less than the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization.

In parts of the northern West Bank, water consumption is one-third the WHO minimum.

Israel pumps some 44 million cubic meters of water in the West Bank, primarily in the Jordan River Valley, which constitutes 5 million cubic meters more than amount it supplies to the Palestinian Authority.

A recent report by the Israeli human rights group B’tselem said Israeli households consumed on average 3.5 times as much water as Palestinian households.

The group attributed the water shortage in Palestinian areas to Israel’s discriminatory policy in distributing water resources and restrictions on drilling new wells.

In the West Bank city of Jenin, water in many Palestinian houses have been cut off since April.

To cope, residents of Jenin and hundreds of villages get their water delivered by truck at sky-high prices.

"I have never witnessed such shortage before," said Hussein Rahhal, a 73-year-old Jenin water vendor, as he stood by his truck in a long queue of similar vehicles waiting to fill their tanks.

Rahhal said some Jenin water wells have already dried up.

His colleague, Hashem Abdel-Hafith, said he switched off his mobile phone because he couldn’t keep up with callers demanding water.

"I kept answering: ‘No water,’" Abdel-Hafith said.

A recent UN report found that Palestinians in some of the hardest-hit communities were spending as much as 30 percent to 40 percent of their income on water delivered by truck.

The Israeli Water Authority did not return several calls from Reuters to request similar information about Israeli consumers.

Back to Bardala, home to nearly 2,000 Palestinians, farmers remember better days.

The village had a surplus of water until the late 1970s when Israel drilled three deep wells next to the village’s four shallow wells, causing them to dry up.

Since then, Israel has reduced the amount of water it pumps to Bardala’s farms, from 240 cubic meters per hour to 140, forcing many to slash production by up to 50 percent and to choose crops such as eggplant and beans that can survive on one watering per week.

"In the past, one could find all kinds of vegetables throughout the year," said farmer Yousef Sawafta.

"It is not the same any more."
( and agencies)

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