RAMALLAH (IRIN) — West Bank infrastructure projects have increased as a result of the Palestinian Authority’s state-building efforts and increased donor funding, although significant barriers to implementation remain, report officials from Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s office, PA ministries and donors.

Infrastructure, intertwined with economic development, is seen as the backbone of a future state under the framework of the 2008 Palestinian Reform and Development Plan, the government’s comprehensive effort to prepare for an independent Palestinian state by September 2011.

The PA has succeeded in connecting almost all residential areas to the electricity grid [99.8 percent of the population now connected], repair thousands of kilometers of roads, as well as improve the water and sanitation networks since 2008.

In Ramallah a year-long $2.5 million “Rehabilitation of the City Center” project, funded by the PA and the municipality and ending in August, will see upgrades to the city’s water and electricity network, roads and communications infrastructure. The project is in Area A, where the PA has full control.

However, PA ministries say permits for project related construction and rehabilitation, particularly in Area C, are not forthcoming and projects are frequently destroyed by Israeli authorities, hindering their ability to deliver essential public services.

Israel retains military authority and full control over the building and planning sphere in Area C; 70 percent of the area is classified as a firing zone, settlement areas, or nature reserves, and is inaccessible to Palestinians; 60 percent of the West Bank is in Area C.

“Restrictions in Area C affect the total population,” spokesperson from Fayyad’s office Ghassan Khatib told IRIN.

“For example, a proposed Nablus sewage treatment plant between Nablus and Tulkarem is located in Area C, but serves the Nablus population in Area A.”

Public infrastructure like sewage and solid waste management facilities cannot be located near population centers, making Area C the only option available, say Palestinian officials.

The project has yet to be approved by the Israeli authorities after nearly 10 years of delay, said Khatib.

The PA has managed to close unsafe landfill sites and to create two new landfills in the Tulkarem and Hebron governorates, with plans for a Southern West Bank Landfill serving the Bethlehem and Hebron governorates.

“It took nearly eight years of negotiations with Israeli authorities to obtain the necessary permission to access areas for the landfills,” said Khatib. Several more are urgently needed.

Ramallah, a sprawling urban center in the West Bank, needs a new landfill to serve its residents and 10 surrounding municipalities, said Ramallah Municipality spokesperson Maha Shihadeh. “The population is too close to the dumping site, and it must be moved to avoid potential health effects.”

Restricted access

Officials from the PA ministry of planning and administrative development (MoPAD) say infrastructure and services must be adapted to the geography imposed by occupation, despite the high cost.

Areas A and B are not contiguous, so many projects like roads and utility networks extend into Area C, less than 1 percent of which has been planned for Palestinian development by the Israeli Civil Administration, reports the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

In the first half of 2011, 342 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished in Area C by Israeli authorities, according to OCHA, while over 3,000 demolition orders are outstanding.

Israel says it has approved a greater number of PA infrastructure projects over the last year aiming to upgrade Palestinian water and sewage infrastructure, agriculture, and the electricity network.

Increased donor funding

An increase in donor funded development projects since 2008 prompted the PA planning ministry to develop an aid information management system, DARP, an inclusive database that currently contains about 1,500 ongoing or completed donor funded projects in the occupied Palestinian territory, including projects from Arab donors.

Over the past 20 years the PA received about US$20 billion in donor funds, $7.7 billion of which came in the last three years, according to a senior planning ministry official.

OPt, with a population of about 4.1 million (2.5 million in the West Bank and about 1.6 million in Gaza) had a gross domestic product of $7 billion in 2010. Net official development assistance to oPt was $2.5 billion in 2010, which amounts to 36 percent of GDP, reports the planning ministry.

In 2010 about $1.148 billion of the assistance went to budget support; about $755 million to development projects from Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and non-OECD donors; and about $585 million was for humanitarian projects, including the UN Relief and Works Agency general fund for the West Bank and Gaza and the UN-NGO Consolidated Appeals Process, according to the planning ministry.

A recent report by aid watchdog Development Initiatives said humanitarian aid to oPt in 2009 was $1.3 billion, making it the second largest recipient in the world.

Project implementation challenges

The US Agency for International Development launched its $300 million Infrastructure Needs Program in 2008, including construction and rehabilitation of roads, water and waste water systems, schools, and other required facilities as the PA prepares for its role in a future Palestinian state.

Major challenges USAID faces include “protracted GOI [Government of Israel] approvals to transport materials and equipment into the West Bank,” and “Delays in PWA [Palestinian Water Authority] land acquisition for funded projects.”

USAID declined to comment on these development challenges.

The European Union, the main donor and partner to the PA, supports a number of major public infrastructure programs in the areas of transportation, electricity, water access, waste water treatment and solid waste management.

After addressing urgent needs linked to rehabilitation of the Palestinian basic infrastructure from 2005 to 2010 (total $166.6 million), the EU is focusing on sector-concentrated interventions, said John Gatt-Rutter, deputy head of the EU Delegation in Jerusalem.

In 2011, the EU expects to invest $31.5 million in the water and sanitation sector. “We are implementing our projects in a total partnership with the PA,” said Gatt-Rutter, and “we do use our contacts with the Israeli government to try to facilitate the implementation of some projects.”

About 43 percent of donor assistance to the Palestinians is from the EU and EU member countries; about 25 percent from the USA and its agencies; about 25 percent from Arab countries and their agencies; and about 7 percent from other donors, like Australia, Japan, Canada and Norway, says the planning ministry official.

Quartet coordination efforts

Office of the Quartet representative Tony Blair continuously negotiates with Israeli officials to try and coordinate donor projects.

“Part of the OQR’s work is helping to facilitate infrastructure projects, most of which are donor funded, that are fulfilling the requirements of PM Fayyad’s state building Plan,” a spokesperson from Blair’s Jerusalem office told IRIN.

“It’s not just about political negotiations; there must be progress on the ground as well for Palestinians to realize improvement in their day-to-day lives,” he said.