By Mohammad Ghazal

STOCKHOLM – Over 90 per cent of water resources in the Palestinian territories are exploited by Israel, leaving insufficient water for an eventual Palestinian state, according to a Palestinian official.

Total annual agricultural, industrial and domestic consumption in the West Bank and Gaza amounted to 330 million cubic metres (mcm) in 2009, while Israel’s consumption that year was seven times greater, Fuad Bateh, adviser to Palestinian Water Minister Shaddad Attili, said in an interview with The Jordan Times during World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, last week.

“The amount of water currently available to Palestinians is not sufficient to have a viable and prosperous Palestinian state,” said Bateh, adding that the annual per capita share of water in the Palestinian territories stands at about 60 cubic metres a year, compared to 150 cubic metres in Jordan. The global water poverty line is 1,000 cubic metres per year.

Stressing that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip suffer a year-round water crisis, the Palestinian official said: “If there is not enough water for drinking and domestic use, how will there be water for industry and the agricultural sector, which are hoped to lift the Palestinians out of poverty?”

According to Bateh, only about 10 per cent of agriculture in the Palestinian territories is irrigated, while the rest is rain-fed, leaving the agricultural sector – one of the main economic drivers of the envisaged Palestinian state – vulnerable to droughts.

The Palestinians rely on three shared ground basin aquifers in the West Bank and one underneath Gaza for water, Bateh said, from which Israel draws over 90 per cent of the water.

“Israel overpumps from these aquifers, which dries up springs and wells the Palestinians rely on to meet their water demands. This overpumping also affects the quality of water Palestinians get,” he said.

Bateh said Palestinians are forced to buy water from the Israeli water authority because they are not allowed to develop their own water resources.

Furthermore, he said, Israeli approval is required to drill new wells, but many requests to do so are rejected, worsening the situation.

According to Bateh, there is just one wastewater treatment plant in the West Bank and none in the Gaza Strip, further degrading the quality of drinking water.

The Palestinians also do not have access to the Jordan River, after the zone was turned into a security area in 1967, said Bateh.

He added that the unlawful settlements in the West Bank exploit Palestinian natural resources in violation of international law.

“Israeli settlements receive a greater quantity of water per capita than the Palestinians. Settlers in the West Bank get four times more water, sometimes six times more, than the average Palestinian.”

The official said a reallocation of shared water resources, in line with international law, will help pave the way for a viable Palestinian state.

“An equitable and reasonable sharing of existing fresh water in line with international law is the solution,” Bateh said, stressing however that “there needs to be the political will to do so”.

He also cited regional cooperation in wastewater treatment and water desalination as other options to address the water crisis in the Palestinian territories.

“Making sure that people have sufficient water to live in dignity is in everyone’s interest. When one party is preventing the other party from having access to water, then it actually increases tension that could lead to open conflict, and that is something we all want to avoid,” he said.