05/26/2011 03:33

Local communities suffering from mosquito infestation and polluted water to gain relief from new plant supported by World Bank.

The World Bank declared its intention to oversee the creation of a $45 million Hebron Waste Water Treatment Plant in the Palestinian Authority at a meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday, attended by affected residents and by the Friends of the Earth Middle East, which announced the decision on Wednesday.

“The World Bank acknowledges the significance of the advancement of environmental solutions such as the Hebron Waste Water Treatment Plant,” said Mariam Sherman, World Bank country director for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “We are very proud to be able to support the Palestinian Authority in this important project.”

After lengthy delays to the project, the new treatment facility will “affect the lives of many residents in both Israel and Palestine,” those people who live on the borders of both the Hebron Stream and the Beersheba Stream and are affected by sewage flow from Hebron and Kiryat Arba, according to Friends of the Earth.

Untreated sewage has polluted ground water and led to a growing mosquito infestation in the area. Communities such as Hebron, Yatta, Metar, Omer and Tel Sheva have been badly affected but should gain relief from the new plant.

In addition to the $10m. that will come directly from the World Bank itself, extra financial resources will come from various groups, including $20m. from the French Development Agency, Friends of the Earth said.

The European Union and Sweden have also expressed interest in funding the project.

“The Hebron Waste Water Treatment Plant is a very important first step in the rehabilitation of the Hebron Stream. However, fair and effective solutions must be agreed on by both Israelis and Palestinians, in full cooperation,” said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, in a statement.

“Israel’s attempts to solve the issue alone have failed, and the Waste Water Treatment Plant in the Shoket Intersection repeatedly fails to function. Only joint management and monitoring of the sewage by both sides will enable a real, longterm resolution for the issues of the Hebron Stream.”

Nader Khatib, the Palestinian director of the group, agreed on the importance of collaboration to combat waste.

“Sewage treatment is more than just an infrastructure project, but an opportunity for communities who jointly suffer to work together and build trust between one another,” Khatib said in the same statement.

“It is important that infrastructure projects involve all communities impacted from the earliest of stages, so that all come to understand the benefits of working together.”

One resident of Metar, Shlomit Tamari, said the sewage problem from the Hebron Stream has been an issue since she moved there 20 years ago.

“The wadi is exactly where I usually run, and a lot of people go biking there. Now a new neighborhood is being built very close to there as well,” said Tamari, a lecturer at Sapir Academic College and member of the Council for a Sustainable Negev.

Ten years ago and on the initiative of local Israeli communities, Tamari explained, the High Court of Justice ruled that the government must take care of the sewage, and ever since, more and more funds have been poured into building the plant at Shoket junction along the Green Line which, as Bromberg said, is not fully functional.

“I’ve estimated that it already took them NIS 100m. to do this,” Tamari said. “But because the stream flows 50 kilometers from Hebron to the border, about half of the sewage is going to the aquifer and we get only half of it at the border.

“We believe the only way to solve this is to build a plant in the city of Hebron itself,” she added.

While Tamari is happy about the World Bank’s commitment she does remain cautious. “I have to hope all the time, but I also have to be skeptical because I’m already in this for 10 years,” she said, noting that if another intifada broke out then the whole process would be interrupted. “I really hope that the situation will be calm and that we will be able to solve this problem.”

The people worst affected by the current sewage problem in the area are the Beduin – on both sides of the Green Line – according to Bromberg.

“Their homes are shacks, they’re literally next to the stream and that stream is raw sewage,” Bromberg told The Jerusalem Post. “The impact is harsh on both Israeli and Palestinian communities equally. So therefore there is a strong interest on both sides.”

Since the two municipalities share the same pipes, sewage from both Hebron and Kiryat Arba will flow into the new facility, which will be completely administered by the PA, he explained.

“Until now Israel has been trying to solve [the problem] unilaterally by building a sewage treatment plant on the Green Line and did build one on the Green Line using Palestinian tax dollars.

But this plant has consistently failed,” Bromberg said, noting that the failures have been caused by the unmanageable quantity of incoming sewage, which then ends up “percolating” into both Israeli and Palestinian ground water sources.

“We both drink it,” he added. “Unilaterally, no one can solve this – we need to be working on these water issues and sanitation issues together.”