Thirsting for justice, Palestinian rights to water and sanitation

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By E. Van R

On Thursday 22 March World Water Day was celebrated as a means of drawing attention to the importance of fresh water. Every day human beings consume a lot of water for their daily needs, wasting more liters than necessary. Efficient use of water is imperative because,although it is reusable, water is not an inexhaustible resource.

In the Palestinian occupied territories especially, the access to sufficient water and hence the food supply is under pressure.

Last Thursday on World Water Day, a protest called ‘Thirsting for Justice took place in front of the Israeli High Court of Justice is Jerusalem to demonstrate for the Palestinian right to water. Meanwhile another protest was going on in Ramallah. Employees of the Palestinian water authority, the Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH) and students walked to the Ministry of Agriculture to hand over a petition. In this petition they asked for more action on the current water situation in the Occupied Palestinian territories.

Although the right to water is a universal human right, the Israeli authorities deny the Palestinians their basic access to water.

The average Palestinian daily consumption of water is about 70 liters per person, well below the 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to cover domestic and public service needs. In contrast, the average Israeli daily per capita consumption is about four times the Palestinian average (300 liters). This is in contrast to European levels where for example the average daily water consumption in the UK is 149 liters per person while in France it is 287 liters per person.

Israeli policies and practices limit Palestinians’ access to the water they are entitled to under international law. Israel controls all sources of freshwater in the West Bank. Palestinians are only allowed, according to the Oslo Accords, to take 20 percent of the “estimated potential” of the Mountain Aquifer underneath the West Bank; Israel extracts the balance. As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank are forced to purchase over half of their water from Israel. Israel steals water from the Mountain Aquifer over which Palestinians have rights to an equitable share, and sells it back to the Palestinians. In Gaza, 90 to 95 percent of the Coastal Aquifer, on which Gaza inhabitants are dependent for water, is contaminated due to over extraction and sewage contamination, making it unfit for human consumption. Palestinians in Gaza have hardly any other sources of water available to them.

The Thirsting for Justice Campaign aims to mobilize European citizens to demand that their governments pressure Israel to change its policies and practices in order to comply with international law and respect Palestinians’ human rights. The campaign will run until the end of 2012.

Campaign Objectives

“Israel” to respect Palestinians’ rights to water and sanitation: In particular, that Palestinians in the West Bank be granted access and control to their share of the aquifer so they can satisfy their water needs. Since 1967, Israel has not allowed Palestinians to dig wells in the Western Aquifer, the largest and most productive source of water in the West Bank. The EU must call on Israel to lift restrictions and respect its commitments by allowing Palestinians to have wells there. Palestinians in Gaza be allowed to rehabilitate their aquifer and develop alternatives, including access to their share of the Mountain aquifer in the West Bank and the Jordan River.

Palestinians to be allowed to develop infrastructure: Reconstruction and maintenance materials to be allowed into Gaza without delay. It is urgent that Palestinians are allowed to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities to increase capacity and minimize the impact on public health. Construction in Area C which comprises 60% of the West Bank and is still under full Israeli military control is allowed without delays, and demolitions stop immediately. The permitting system ceases to impede small construction such as connection to the water and sewage networks as well as construction of Waste Water Treatment Plants.

Greater accountability for violations of international law: The European Union and Member States demand compensation from Israel for delayed or destroyed EU-funded projects. Israel will be requested to compensate communities for projects obstructed and resources appropriated in line with its obligations as the Occupying Power.