Severe water shortages for West Bank Palestinians

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Severe water shortages, long journeys to school and hospital, and cramped living conditions are just some of the daily realities West Bank Palestinians face, Caroline Berger discovers.

My journey through the West Bank to meet with Abdul Ibrahim Shovat is infused with biblical significance. Passing the Jordan River where Jesus was baptised, it still bears witness to modern day Christian baptisms. But further downstream, near the turnoff to Hamra, the river runs dry. The occasional trickle is polluted with sewage from Nablus.

For Abdul, a local Bedouin from Al Hadadia village in the Jordan Valley, with 29 family members to support, there is barely any water. Sitting in his makeshift tent surrounded by chickens pecking at my feet.

"We are living in a very bad situation. It goes from bad to worse. It's very dry here - there is very little rainfall. There is no source of water." Abdul believes the lack of rainfall is God's divine intervention.

From Abdul's makeshift tent, I can see the Israeli settlement, R'oi, where fields are flourishing with date palms and grapes housed under nylon netting greenhouses.

Before Oxfam's drought programme, funded by the European Commission, Abdul had no choice but to travel nearly four hours each way to fill up his water tank. Coupled with the high price of fuel each trip cost him 110 NIS (£17). Abdul explains, "I only allow my sons to wash their faces once a day to preserve water".

Every six days, Oxfam has been providing fodder and water for Abdul's 300 livestock and family members. Along with severe water shortages, Abdul and his family face constant problems from the nearby settlers.

"Yesterday the settlers took my son for several hours while he was out tending the goats. We went to the police and they returned him," Abdul tells us. "The settlers are surrounding the landscape and trying to kick us off the land. I've been living here since I was born - my father used to be responsible for the community."

We are told that some families in the area have moved because of the settlers. They are all residents of Area C; land which has been divided and protected for military use. Abdul's family is denied permits to extend their house.

"All of my ten children sleep in here. Two years ago, the Israeli military demolished other parts of our house where we took showers. The extension was a gift from our Prime Minister," Em Mo'ath, Abdul's wife, tells us.

Due to the rigorous checkpoints, travel to the nearest hospital is difficult. Em Mo'ath has had six miscarriages. A sad silence hangs in the air.

"If my children are sick the nearest hospital is one hour away". The tragedy continues. One of her sons was killed on his way to school during the first intifada. She averts her gaze and recalls, "He fell from the tractor and broke his neck."

Life on the Israeli settlement directly contrasts the daily struggles faced by Em Mo'ath and her family. While her seven children have no choice but to walk 17km to school everyday... "the bus comes everyday to pick the children up from the settlements. We just watch," Em Mo'ath says.

There is no electricity here. Abdu powers his mobile off the tractor's engine. Yet just down the road the settlements are surrounded by electric fences. I wonder if the residents of R'oi ever notice how their neighbours live just across from the electric fences that surround their fields.

Meanwhile Abdul, Em Mo'ath and their children rely on the lifeline provided by Oxfam.

"This kind of assistance is very helpful - we can't go on without it," Abdul says.