By Mercedes San Roman Ruiz
It is Saturday morning. After a long week of work, it’s time to tour around and see a little more of the reality of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and enjoy the time here. It is June, not too hot, perfect day for tourism. We decide to go first to Auja Spring, located in Al-Auja, a Palestinian town in the Jericho Governorate in the eastern West Bank, ten kilometres north of Jericho. This spring below sea level is one of the largest water sources in the Jordan Valley. After hiking, we are received by Bedouin families. Where is the water? We see very little. What is happening? The water from Al-Auja Spring is used to irrigate the surrounding lands; due to the over extraction of water taken from the nearby settlement, water is not flowing as before anymore. This is affecting the agriculture and means of living in the area. In the settlement, an average of 280 litres per capita per day is used. The Palestinians have access to only 75 litres per capita per day, which is far below the acceptable WHO standards (150 l/c/d).

Our day continues; we want to go to see the Jordan River as we pass through the West Bank. Enormous is our surprise when we see that Israel has declared West Bank land adjacent to the Jordan River a “closed military zone,” to which only Israeli settler farmers have been permitted access. Due to the extraction of water from the north-western portion of Lake Tiberias, very little is left to flow downstream. And even that cannot be used! Farmers and the environment are being affected, livelihoods are being diminished. The lack of control over resources, in this case water, makes it very complicated to adapt to the effects that climate change is bringing. More droughts, less water, more difficult to have a prosperous life. Moreover, desertification and loss of biodiversity take place on a large scale in this area.

Let’s have lunch in Ramallah. Solid waste can be seen around the city. Not a pleasant view, especially during summer, when it is accompanied by an unpleasant smell. Our attention is drawn to all the illegal solid waste dumping sites. A big threat to the health of the people, especially to the kids who play in those areas exposed to the open waste. There is not a proper system of solid waste management in Ramallah Governorate. Why, we wonder? None of the areas that are being used comply with the minimum requirements for the protection of the environment and health. It is impossible to manage the environment properly because it is impossible to access Area C, where the sanitary landfill is supposed to be located. Lack of control over land. Another contradiction. This impedes the proper safeguarding of the population’s quality of life.

These are just a few examples of what we can find if we travel around the West Bank, and Gaza as well. Environmental conditions and access to environmental assets are closely linked to the livelihoods, health, and security of the oPt. Public and private investment in the productivity of these environmental assets could generate strong returns for poverty reduction, contribute to pro-poor growth, and accelerate progress towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Yet, despite their critical importance and vulnerability, environmental assets in the oPt are being degraded at an alarming rate. Considering the current trends, the persistence of the conflict, and the levels of environment protection in the oPt, it is unlikely that MDG 7 will be met by 2015.

The most critical problems faced by the oPt include depletion of natural resources; deterioration of nature, loss of biodiversity, and aesthetic distortion; climate change; marine and coastal pollution; air and noise pollution; and poor, fragmented, and unreliable environmental health services at the local level.

The environmental work of UNDP/PAPP is guided by the MDG of enhancing environmental sustainability and is in line with the Palestinian Authority’s Reform and Development Plan. UNDP/PAPP works very closely with the Palestinian Water Authority and the Environment Quality Authority and supports them to enhance their capacities as policy makers and regulators of the water and environment sectors.

Since 1979, more than one-third of UNDP’s resources have been invested in environmental projects. This has resulted in more than 270 projects that range from construction of water and wastewater networks and rehabilitation of sewage treatment plants to development of strategic water- and environment-sector plans. Key challenges within the environment sector for UNDP and its partners include improving access to water supply and sanitation as well as to solid waste services; enhancing environmental management and environmental protection; pollution control and climate change adaptation.

Climate change is the greatest global driver for environmental change and degradation that will have substantial implications for our planet and for the economic development, well-being, and prosperity of the human person. The early warning signs of climate change are already visible, and we are witnessing what could be the onset of major human development reversal in our lifetime. Therefore, in an effort to keep the oPt linked with the global changing environment, UNDP/PAPP has taken the initiative to develop the “Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Programme of Action” for the Palestinian Authority, which formed the basis of the presentation of Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, which started on 7 December 2009, thus placing the occupied Palestinian territory on the map, ready to face the challenges.

Mercedes San Roman Ruiz is an environmental scientist who has a master’s degree in development and programme management. She started working with UNDP/PAPP at the end of 2006 as a programme analyst for the environment. Prior to this, she worked in the Philippines and in the South East Asia region (BP Solar and NGO IPADE) and in Spain (Fundacion Entorno and Spanish Cooperation Agency for Development).