UNRWA improves access to water in threatened West Bank community
Jenin, West Bank
Displaced twice by two consecutive Arab-Israeli wars, Palestinian Bedouin refugee families from the Haifa area, in the north of today’s Israel, settled in Imreiha near the West Bank city of Jenin in 1967. Since then, the community has grown; today, nearly 500 people live in Imreiha, 74 per cent of them registered refugees with UNRWA, and rely on herding and farming as their main source of income. Imreiha is located in Area C, the 60 per cent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military and administrative control. Ongoing evictions and administrative demolitions of residential and livelihood structures by the Israeli authorities in the area are once again threatening the community with displacement.
Despite having lived in the area for decades, the Imreiha community lacks basic health, education and social services. Bordered by two Israeli settlements, considered illegal under international law, and with military checkpoints and settler attacks severely restricting their movement, the community is isolated from both nearby Palestinian villages and its agricultural and grazing land.
As a herding community, one of the main concerns in the village is access to water. Israeli restrictions on planning and construction have prevented the village’s historic water network from being connected to the main water supply of the local governorate of Jenin. As a result, local families are forced to buy tankered* water from nearby Jenin city; a heavy financial burden on a community already living within very modest means. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), communities depending on tankered water pay up to 400 per cent more for every liter than those connected to the West Bank water network.
“We’re determined to stay”
The Imreiha community requested a permit from the Israeli authorities to connect their water pipeline to that of the local governorate. After one Israeli official gave verbal approval, residents were full of hope. UNRWA stepped in, providing assistance to Imreiha residents to establish the water connection they so desperately needed.
Labourers from the community were employed by UNRWA’s cash-for-work programme to dig new pipelines. After two days, they finally managed to make the connection to the main local water network. “We’re delighted to have been able to help the Imreiha community achieve real improvement in their lives” says the Director of UNRWA Affairs in the West Bank, Felipe Sanchez “There is enormous pressure on these communities, and they are constantly at threat of displacement. Providing basic services like water connections is one way we can help people remain on their lands. This project benefits the entire community, and is built to last”, he added.
Local resident Burhan Sulaiman is delighted with the change. He used to pay NIS 400 (approx USD 109) a month for water for his family; now he pays NIS 40 (approx USD 11). Since being connected to the water network, Burhan says, the change to the life of the community has been immeasurable.
The struggle continues
The community still faces an uncertain future. Imreiha residents continue to endure frequent harassment by settlers and the Israeli army, not to mention severe restrictions to movement and access to basic services. In February, the new water connection was damaged by Israeli soldiers trying to mount a block at one of the entrances to the village. The village council fixed the connection at its own expense.
The reconnection of the water network has done much to ease the economic hardship of local people like Burhan; the pipeline has even attracted people from other poverty-stricken villages in the area who can now buy water from Imreiha, saving funds in the process. The improved situation is “one of many factors giving us hope” in the face of the threat of displacement, says Burhan. “Despite the pressure of eviction, we are determined to stay.”
*Lacking access to a water network, residents had to pay for water that is carried over to them by water tanks, which they would then store it at tanks at home. Water carried over this way costs 400 per cent more.