The EU and Germany will fund a 40 million euro wastewater treatment plant in east Nablus to handle sewage that currently flows untreated into the surrounding soil and groundwater.

The new facility will treat the sewage of up to 150,000 people in the region, and significantly reduce health risks posed to the population of Nablus as well as the area’s agricultural regions that often become recipients of raw sewage, the funders explained at the signing last week in Ramallah.

Of the total of 40m. euros, half comes from the European Union; 21.8m. euros will come from the German government and 3.4m. euros from the Nablus Municipality, implemented by the German government’s KfW Development Bank.

Cemented at an official signing ceremony on Wednesday, the project involves the participation of a number of high-level Palestinian officials as well as local EU and German representatives stationed in the West Bank.

“Severe water shortages and acute water quality problems continue to negatively affect the lives and livelihoods of many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In an effort to improve the situation, the EU has, since 2011, included water and sanitation as priority sectors within its overall financial assistance to the Palestinian people,” EU Representative John Gatt-Rutter said at the signing ceremony.

“Today’s ceremony marks the beginning of an ambitious project which can make a real difference to the quality of life of Palestinians in Nablus and the surrounding villages,” Gatt-Rutter continued. “It is also a clear example of how the EU works together with its member states to bring tangible results for the benefit of the Palestinian people.”

Under the framework of the project, the parties involved will construct a central wastewater treatment plant to serve the eastern part of Nablus city as well as the six surrounding villages of Azmut, Salem, Deir al-Hatab, Kafer Qalil, Rujeeb and Beit Furik, information from the funders said. The plant will be located in Area B, the administrative region of the West Bank under Palestinian civil control and Israeli security control.

Construction of the plant will likely start at the beginning of 2015, and operation will begin in 2017, according to the partners.

In addition to the central facility, the plans will extend existing sewage collection systems and implement new ones, information from the funders said.

For the initial two years after the plant’s establishment, the European partners have committed to providing operational assistance to the Nablus Municipality for the central facility, as well as for selected industrial wastewater pre-treatment plants and a pilot scheme for reusing treated wastewater in agriculture.

“This project will benefit up to 150,000 people in the region and, through an effective collection and treatment of wastewater will protect water resources and reduce health risks,” said Wolfgang Reuss, KfW director for North Africa and the Middle East. “Further, the reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture will benefit farmers in the region and will help to save scarce drinking water.”

Both the EU and the German government have for years invested in improving the environmental infrastructure of Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank, establishing some wastewater treatment facilities and garbage disposal sites. Since 2008, the EU said it has invested 90m. euros in the region’s water, sanitation and solid waste management sectors. The EU is also financing the development of other wastewater treatment plants in water scarce regions like Tubas, and is also investing in solid waste programs and a desalination facility in Gaza, the EU representatives said.

As far as Germany goes, thus far the government has implemented or continues to implement water and wastewater projects in El-Bireh, Nablus West and Gaza City. In addition, Germany also provides technical assistance and capacity building services to the Palestinian Water Authority, the government said.

“Treatment facilities like the one in Nablus east improve the health and environmental situation of Palestinians,” said Barbara Wolf, head of Germany’s Representative Office in Ramallah. “The improvement of the water and wastewater services is one of the core areas of support of the German government in the Palestinian Territories.”

Operating around the world as Germany’s leading development bank on behalf of the German federal government, KfW likewise partakes in many environmental projects throughout the West Bank. One KfW project that has recently emerged into controversy is a future Palestinian garbage dump to be located near the village of Ramun and the Israeli settlement of Rimonim. Settlers have been up in arms about the planned site due to its alleged proximity to a nature reserve, but both the Palestinian government and KfW have argued that the dump will eliminate the environmental hazards in the region caused by pirate waste disposal and incineration sites.

An additional argument posed by the settlers is that the relatively nearby El-Bireh wastewater treatment plant, also funded by KfW, has not been maintained according to high-level European standards. The settlers have therefore expressed fears that the same will happen regarding the future garbage dump planned for the area, and that leachate from the waste site could seep into the ground – and groundwater. In a meeting several months ago with The Jerusalem Post in Ramallah, Palestinian waste management officials stressed, however, that this would absolutely not be the case at the future dump.

When asked if the EU and German funders feared a similar scenario overtaking the newly planned East Nablus wastewater treatment site, a EU regional spokeswoman stressed that the plant would not face such issues and that the El-Bireh facility’s problems are under repair.

The El-Bireh wastewater treatment plant, she explained, was financed by KfW in the 1990s and began operations in 2000, but has recently been experiencing problems in sludge management. To rectify this issue and improve the sludge management at El- Bireh, KfW is providing additional funds for operational assistance, the spokeswoman said.

“To ensure proper environmental and technical operation of the Nablus plant, in the first two years of operations a technical assistance is foreseen, whereby an international specialized company will train the municipality staff to operate the plant,” she said.