STOCKHOLM, August 28, 2011 (WAFA) – Israel exploits over 90% of the Palestinian-Israeli shared water resources for its own use, while exerting tremendous influence over the remaining 10% for Palestinian use, said Minister of Water Authority, Shaddad Attili, on Saturday during the closing session of the World Water Week in Stockholm.

Palestinians are denied their equitable and reasonable share of water under customary international water law and have also been prevented from developing essential water infrastructure and securing their human right to water as mandated in the 2010 United Nations General Assembly resolution on the same, said Attili in a press release.

He added that access to water has become a weapon used by Israel to target some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities in the occupied Palestinian Territory in cases such as the destruction of water cisterns, wells and other essential water infrastructure, resulting in forced migration.

“Facts of occupation greatly impact our ability to meet Palestine’s domestic, agricultural and industrial water needs both now and in the future,” added Attili.

According to him, Palestinian water problems can be attributed in part to environmental factors, but the far more immediate and detrimental reasons are the numerous restrictions Palestinians face in accessing water as a result of Israel’s occupation.

“Palestinians suffer from a social, physical and political shortage of water. Tackling our water shortage first and foremost requires a political solution, in the absence of which no managerial and technical measures can provide an adequate substitute,” added the press release.

In his speech, Attili said the fresh water volume available to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza at present is about 70 cubic metres per capita annually, which is significantly less than water consumption levels recommended by the World Health Organization and much lower than the volumes available to co-riparians in the Jordan River basin.

“As a point of comparison, neighbouring Jordan often asserts that it is the fourth most water-scarce state in the world, while Palestinians have on average access to significantly less water per capita than available to Jordanians per day. In fact, the water available per capita in Palestine is less today than was the case at the time of the signing of the Interim Agreement with Israel in 1995,” he added.

Moreover, the low percentage of available water for Palestinians includes about 120 million cubic metres annually over-abstracted from the Coastal Aquifer in the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that 90-95% does not meet the World Health Organization minimum standards, said Attili.

He called on all world states to demand from Israel, the occupying power, to bring an end to this unjust and deplorable situation.

In Gaza, where 40% of the in-country population of Palestinians live and a 120 million cubic meter water deficit exists, water supplies are blocked to Palestinian access by Israel’s ongoing siege over Gaza while problems of water quality and imminent aquifer collapse dominate the Strip.

“Over-abstraction of the groundwater in Gaza is accompanied by serious contamination of the aquifer as a result of saline intrusion both from the Mediterranean Sea and from the south-east, due to a hydrological connection to the Avedat aquifer in Israel,” Attili explained.

In addition, Gaza’s groundwater is further contaminated by wastewater percolating through the permeable sand strata, added the press release.

As a result of these problems, none of the groundwater in Gaza meets internationally recognised standards in terms of quality for potable use, while most of the 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza cannot afford to treat the groundwater, leading to a rapid increase in the incidence of water-borne diseases in Gaza especially among children, said Attili.

“We have examined all technical and managerial options, but most are not available in Gaza for political reasons. Prevented from importing basic construction materials, we have had to negotiate every sack of cement that comes in, taking four years to build an ‘emergency’ wastewater filtration pond after seven people died in the torrent of sewage after the sewage lagoon burst its banks,” he added.

Attili said that Palestinian Authority is pleased by the recent approval of the Union for the Mediterranean to develop a Desalination Facility for the Gaza Strip, but reiterated that the spatial limitations in Gaza as well as the 120 million cubic meter deficit may require the exploration of an option of locating a second desalination facility in the Sinai in Egypt.

Attili pointed to the Palestinian-Israeli Joint Work Committee that was established in 1995 and used by Israel in a bureaucratic and rather arbitrary way, to veto and indefinitely delay PWA plans and programs aimed at providing adequate water resources for Palestinians over the past 16 years. He discussed a Palestinian modest and slow progress in playing a more assertive role in the forum.

“We look forward to the day when a new forum will allow us to interact with our Israeli counterparts as respected partners and equals, working jointly to solve problems in the interests of all,” he added.

Attili said that in accordance with international agreements and negotiations between the two parties, Israel must end its illegal exploitation of Palestinian-Israeli shared water resources and these same resources must be reallocated according to the principle of equitable and reasonable use, as required by customary international water law.

He noted the success of the Palestinian Authority’s state building efforts, and said, “there can be no viable Palestinian state without our having access to, as well as control and management over, sufficient water resources capable of meeting our present and future domestic, agricultural and industrial water needs.”

“We look forward to working with all our regional neighbours, and all of you for a sustainable future in water for all the peoples of the region,” Attili concluded.