Pilot underway, but full solution to cost 400 million euros.
By Amiram Cohen

A new joint Italian-Israeli-Palestinian initiative to solve the sewage problem in the Palestinian Authority was launched this week.

The two million residents of the PA produce about 150 million cubic meters of raw sewage a year, but only 22.5 million cubic meters, some 15%, is collected and treated in waste water treatment plants. The rest is collected in primitive septic tanks in people’s yards, each holding about 12 to 15 cubic meters of raw sewage and not connected to any sewerage system. These septic tanks have been dug over the years – not only in rural villages but also in the Palestinian towns and cities.

When the septic tanks fill up, the families or local authority usually calls a small tanker truck that sucks up the sewage from the septic tanks and dumps it directly into a nearby wadi – and the sewage flows toward the Dead Sea or the Mediterranean, with most of it being absorbed into the ground en route. This sewage then contaminates the groundwater in the PA and Israel.

The raw sewage often contains disease-causing pathogens, many of which can be dangerous. The sewage often contains high concentrations of amoebas, intestinal parasites, dangerous bacteria such as those causing Hepatitis-A, and many other disease-carrying germs.

While some of the septic tanks in the PA are lined with concrete to stop leakage and groundwater contamination, most offer no protection to keep the sewage out of the water table. Usually the tanks in the towns and cities are better protected than those in rural areas.

Using Israeli technology

The sewage issue may not be in the headlines, but it is still a major issue between Israel and the Palestinians, as it causes serious environmental and health problems – on both sides.

Dr. Marina Scognamiglio, the head of the Italian Trade Commission branch in Tel Aviv, was behind the new joint project that may help defuse the problem. The idea is to build sewage treatment plants and reuse the treated water for agriculture.

A ray of hope can be seen in the Palestinian village of Ouja in the Jordan Valley, straddling the road from Jerico to Beit She’an. A joint Italian-Israeli-Palestinian project is starting there to help solve the PA’s sewage problem.

The pilot project in Ouja was launched at a conference at Kibbutz Ketura this week, in collaboration with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. The final day of the conference was held at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa on Wednesday.

The conference brought together a group of water professionals from Israel, Italy and the Palestinian Authority. The goal was to establish a cooperative framework on water resources management for the shared waters of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

Ouja is a mostly agricultural town of 5,000 residents, who produce 350 cubic meters of sewage a day. Not a large amount, and it is possible to treat the sewage in one small plant. The technology, from Israeli company Mapal Energy, was chosen because it saves on energy. The investment involved in establishing the sewage plant in Ouja is estimated at $150,000 to $200,000, with another $1.5 million to $2 million needed to hook up local houses to the sewerage system. The Italians committed themselves to finding the necessary funds through the EU nations contributing to the PA, in loans or grants.

But this is really only small change, as an overall sewage solution would cost in the range of 400 million euros.

Not only do the Italians view the solution as helping the peace process and the environment, it is also an opportunity for Italian companies to sell such products as metal and concrete pipes, sewage pumps and other equipment needed for collecting and treating the waste water; and they can also penetrate new markets and build the sewage plants.