Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Water is a Human Right

In Stockholm at the end of August, World Water Week focused on the needs of impoverished communities for clean water – or any water at all. A United Nations report in March said the world faces a 40 percent shortfall in water supplies in the next 15 years due to urbanization, population growth and growing demand for water for food production, energy and industry. But the root cause of water shortage is often political. Occasionally, it is deliberately inflicted.

Swimming pool in Eilat
In the West Bank, while Israelis water their lawns, irrigate crops and swim in Olympic-sized pools, Palestinians living a few kilometers away are sweltering and thirsty. A report from the United Nations found that the average Israeli settler uses 300 liters of water per day. But Israeli restrictions ensure that the average Palestinian in the occupied West Bank gets only about 70 liters, well below the 100 liter daily amount advocated by the World Health Organization.

Watering the stock: Palestine
Despite its location in a region thought to be perennially dry, Israel-Palestine actually has ample natural freshwater resources in the form of underwater aquifers and the Jordan River. Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli settlers live in equal proximity to these resources, which should allow for equal consumption. But ever since its foundation, Israel has controlled the water supply for the region, first by military edicts, and later through Mekarot, the Israeli national water company. 

To this day, Israel requires Palestinians to obtain permits from the military to build new water infrastructure. If they build new wells, springs, or even rain-collecting containers without Israeli permission, soldiers confiscate or destroy them, often without prior notification.

Settlers vandalize Palestinian water tanks
Israeli settlers, emboldened by government indifference, cruelly vandalize Palestinian community water storage tanks. Fifty-six water springs near Israeli settlements have become the target of “systematic settler activities.”

Even when Palestinians attempt to go through the ‘proper’ Israeli channels, they’re met with innumerable obstacles. Israeli regulatory organizations have created a bureaucratic nightmare for West Bank residents attempting to acquire permits to either build new instillations or repair the region’s infrastructure.

The most striking inequality lies in the division of the Mountain Aquifer, the only underground water source that Palestinians in the West Bank are allowed to access. Despite it being the sole water source for the territory, Israeli regulations ensure that 80% of the rain that falls on the West Bank flows underground to Israel, while Palestinian extraction is limited to 20% of the aquifer’s total capacity.

Palestinian boy totes water for his family
As for Gaza, the UN estimates the crowded, blockaded region will be uninhabitable by the year 2020 if the current water restrictions continue. Although the West Bank is relatively well-off in comparison, the water crisis there has resulted in severe economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, a situation that is not conducive to long-term stability in the region.
Water, a life-giving natural resource, is both a human need and a human right. Whether in Detroit, or California, or Palestine, deliberate policy should not deprive the most vulnerable 
of a region’s ample resources.

Shakir, L. (2015, August 24).  Palestine: “Dying of Thirst.” The Drought is Deliberately Inflicted by Israel. Global Research. http://www.globalresearch.ca/think-californias-drought-is-bad-try-palestines/5471179  

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory. (2012, March). Special Focus: How Dispossession Happens. https://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_springs_report_march_2012_english.pdf

Vatican Radio. (2015, August 24). Stockholm World Water Week Focuses on Development. http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/08/24/stockholm_world_water_week_focuses_on_development/1167141