Monday, September 25, 2017

The case of Nahalin, an unwilling example of inadequate water policy in the West Bank

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By Jan Walraven - February 22, 2014
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Water]

Photography by Jan Walraven.
 
 
Four Israeli settlements and the encroaching separation wall surround Nahalin, a Palestinian village of about 7,000 people located southwest of Bethlehem. Because the settlements are destined to be absorbed into the wider area of Jerusalem, Israeli authorities plan to build the wall east of the Green Line and east of the settlements, annexing them and the surrounding land completely. 
 
“There will also be a checkpoint at the main road, that will be open only a few times a day and close at 5 pm,” said Majed Ghayada, a member of the Nahalin Local Council.
 
 
In the long run, when the planned construction of the separation wall is finished, Nahalin and five other neighbouring Palestinian villages will also be placed inside Israeli territory, cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank, nearby Bethlehem and its services.
 
But apart from the pending enclosure, the villagers have another problem on their minds. “Every Friday and Saturday farm land owned by farmers from Nahalin is being flooded with untreated wastewater,” Ghayada said in an interview with The Palestine Monitor. The sewage water is streaming down from the top of the hill west of the village, where the illegal Beitar Illit settlement is located. The raw wastewater, containing bacteria and other polluting substances, is contaminating the water spring and killing olive trees. 
 
“The spring water used to be very healthy,” explained Ghayada, “but now, when our sheep or donkeys drink from it, they die.”
 
According to Ghayada, the discharges started in 1999 “in little amounts, but it worsened after the Second Intifadah.” Now, sewage water is discharged onto the fields of Nahalin from five different pipes. “One is so big, you can park your car in there,” Ghayada said. He believes that the discharges are a deliberate move from the settlers and the Israeli government. “They want the land to use it as a buffer area between our village and the settlements, and it is working, because nobody wants to use these lands anymore.”
 
Insufficient measures
 
According to data by Americans for Peace Now, the illegal settlement of Beitar Illit, established in 1985, has a population of about 37,000 and occupies an area of 961 acres; Palestinians from neighbouring villages privately own 91 acres.
 
Located on the southwest slope of the settlement, the Israeli Housing Ministry built a facility designed to pump the sewage water from Beitar Illit to the Soreq water treatment facility, situated inside Israel, near Tel Aviv. Apparently, this facility isn’t nearly sufficient enough to process all of the wastewater produced inside the settlement, so the surplus sewage water is dumped outside the settlement, onto the fields, streams and spring source of Nahalin.
 
When water and soil are contaminated, all crops are rendered useless and unsafe for consumption, which results in a financial and economic loss for the villagers, in addition to enormous environmental costs. The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ) estimates the total loss in terms of grape, vegetable and olive produce at NIS 900,000. 
 
The community of Nahalin now has to buy tanked water from Israeli water company Mekorot, costing the village 355,000 NIS a month according to ARIJ. This cost, together with the economic and financial losses of the contamination, creates an economic deficit that will be hard to overcome by the community of Nahalin.
 
Problem facing the entire West Bank
 
Unfortunately, Nahalin isn’t a stand-alone case. In a report on wastewater treatment in the West Bank, B’Tselem quotes the results of a study conducted by the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority Environment Unit, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Civil Administration. They found that in 2007, 81 of 121 settlements in the West Bank were connected to wastewater treatment facilities. This implies that in 2007, 12 millions of cubic metres (mcm) of wastewater from settlements was treated, while 5.5 mcm flowed into West Bank streams and valleys untreated.
 
Another study, quoted in the B’Tselem report, conducted by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in 2001, found that in 2,721 samples from wells and water tanks, 22 percent had bacterial readings above the drinking-water standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
 
The case of Nahalin and the quoted studies indicate that insufficient treatment of wastewater is a huge environmental and economic problem facing the entire West Bank. All sides acknowledge the long-term environmental effects of this neglect to be very worrisome. But free-flowing, raw wastewater from Israeli settlements isn’t the only cause. In their status report on wastewater from 2011, the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) concluded that in the West Bank only 31% of the total population were connected to sewerage collection networks. Because many of these sewage networks are old and poorly preserved, frequent spills and leakages lead to the contamination of surrounding areas. 68% of the population collects their wastewater in cesspits and 1% directly dumps it into the environment.
 
Political deadlock
 
In article 40 of the Oslo II agreement signed in 1995, both sides agreed to coordinate the management of water and sewage resources and systems in the West Bank during a five-year interim period. To do this, the Joint Water Committee (JWC) was set up. In spite of the initial temporarily set-up, the JWC still exists today. It decides on every proposal on water policy in the West Bank, but by unanimity, which means that one side can veto all proposals from the other side. Moreover, the Civil Administration, the governing body of Israel’s occupation in the West Bank, has to approve of every decision made by the JWC before they get implemented. 
 
Until 1999 Israel was willing to approve of the construction of Palestinian water treatment facilities only if they would be connected to settlements. This was and still is unacceptable for the Palestinian Authority (PA), as it does not want to be seen as giving legitimacy to the permanent presence of the settlements by including them in solutions for wastewater treatment. Since 1995, only two new Palestinian water treatment facilities have been constructed. Many plans are waiting approval.
 
There are a few underlying causes to the failing water policy, concludes a 2009 World Bank report on water policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It calls the JWC a system with “asymmetries of power and capacity, that does not facilitate rational planning and development of Palestinian water resources and infrastructure.” Asymmetric, because, for example, the Israeli Civil Administration has full control over about 60% (Area C) of the West Bank and “most water infrastructure has a footprint within Area C.”
 
The World Bank also points to the bad investment environment, weak institutional capacity of the PA and implementation constraints as other main causes. In response to the World Bank report, the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated that “Palestinians are not constructing sewage treatment plants, despite their obligation to do so. Rather, they allow the sewage flow unheeded into streams, polluting both the environment and groundwater.”
 
Overall, the inadequate water policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is mostly due to the political deadlock of the past decade. While the impasse continues, Palestinian residents continue to be harmed both physically and economically, as sewage stemming from Israeli settlements leaks unabated into their crops and drinking water. 

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