OPT: Yatta's new reservoir - Thanks to a good shepherd

YATTA, West Bank - American and Palestinian officials inaugurated a sparkling new reservoir for water-starved Yatta Tuesday and noted that the project's success was ensured by a generous gesture from a poor shepherd.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contributed $250,000 for the construction of the 2,000 cubic meter concrete circular reservoir with 1.25 kilometers of piping and an asphalt road to facilitate access by maintenance personnel.

The Yatta municipality donated and leveled the land and is providing the equipment.

The new reservoir is expected to solve the chronic water problems of Yatta's 48,000 residents by providing consistent and inexpensive water. It was designed in accordance with the Palestinian Water Authority's engineering standards and in coordination with the Yatta Municipality.

But the project hit a snag when religious leaders complained that the designated reservoir site was too close to an old graveyard.

Mohammed Abu-Arqub, a 48-year-old shepherd with 11 children, came to the rescue.

Mohammed, who lives near the proposed site, offered to have his house demolished and the reservoir built in its place.

"I became a very poor person because of a lack of water," he explained. "As a shepherd, my income depends on my sheep and I have already lost half my herd because I couldn't afford to water them."

"I felt that I could live without a house, but I could never live without water," he said. "Like most people in Yatta, I feel this reservoir is a dream that will solve our problems."

A simple change in the reservoir's dimensions allowed the project to proceed, and Mohammed's house was saved. But he earned the gratitude of the entire community.

Before the new reservoir was built, inconsistent water pressure left some areas of the city with just 20 liters of water per person per day - only 20% of what the World Health Organization considers the minimum for domestic consumption. The situation was especially bad in the summer when demand for water is high.

Many residents had to rely on water delivered by tankers, which was expensive, costing up to 25 shekels a cubic meter. With the new reservoir, residents will have to pay only four shekels for the same amount of water.

Yatta municipality receives 2,000 cubic meters of water daily from the Israeli water company, Mekerot, but its two older reservoirs had a capacity of only 650 cubic meters. Therefore, 66% of the population received its water directly from the Mekerot supply point, without a reservoir to stabilize the pressure.

The new reservoir will ensure steady pressure in the water network and a more regular water distribution throughout the city. The project will lower the operational costs of the water network by reducing damaging waters surges ("water hammers"), and corrosion.

The reservoir will also improve the quality of water through controlled chlorination at the point of distribution.

USAID has spent more than $1.5 billion in the West Bank and Gaza to combat poverty, create jobs, improve education, build roads and water systems, construct and equip medical clinics, and promote good governance.