Saturday, October 31, 2020

Acclimating to the inevitable - Climate change in Palestine

By F.F. Dawkins - July 24, 2019
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [environment]

Palestine and Israel have the same environmental destiny, and will, therefore, face the same effects of climate change. The geographical proximity would make cooperation indispensable to provide an effective common action plan to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Regardless of this necessary cooperation, Israeli authorities are perceived as the leading cause of environmental problems in the West Bank. 

Nedal Katbeh, Advisor for the Ministry of Environmental Affairs explained, “There is no cooperation between Israel and Palestine regarding environmental issues. Much more, at this point, the Israeli government, with their occupation practices, is a part of the problem and not the solution.”

In order to not only mitigate the effects of climate change but increase Palestine’s resilience, the Ministry of Environmental Affairs has established the National Adaptation Plan

“The Adaptation Plan also includes Area C, in which we want to implement, for example, wastewater projects. But parts of this plan cannot be realised because Israeli authorities block or prohibit our initiatives,” Katbeh said.

Even though Israel’s restrictive policies regarding infrastructure projects in the West Bank are well known, these measures seem disproportionate and pointless in view of the expected impact of climate change, like a temperature increase of between +2.2 degrees to 4.8 degrees Celcius by 2100, rainfall decrease up to 30 per cent till 2050, shifting rain season and an increase of heavy weather events. 

The Drying Unit in which the seeds are stored until their water content is reduced, which is necessary for the long-term storage of the seeds.

After all, the consequences of climate change will be borne by both sides, and only comprehensive and cooperative measures can mitigate them. But the experiences of environmental NGOs show that the will for cooperation is, to say the least, sobering.

Salem Nassr, Project Manager of the NGO Palestinian Agriculture Relief Committee (PARC), told Palestine Monitor, “Environmental issues in Palestine are always rooted to the occupation. For example, Israeli settlements are producing wastewater, which runs through Palestinian villages. But we are not allowed to build the infrastructure to cope with the wastewater.” 

As these infrastructure projects mostly include Area C, which is solely under Israeli control, the success of these projects is always connected to the will of the Israeli authorities to approve the building permits. The chances of receiving such a building permit are often vanishingly low.

Program Director of PARC, Izzat Zeidan, explained the difficulties Palestinian villages inside Area C face when it comes to Israeli approval of infrastructure. 

“We have several times created water pipelines connecting different villages. As soon as the project was finished, Israeli forces dissected the pipeline multiple times, so we were not able to reuse any of it,” Zeidan said.

Regardless of the adverse circumstances, NGOs try to adapt to the given situation and find alternative ways to realise their projects. “Because of this difficult situation, we try to avoid direct contact with Israeli forces during the construction, so we build it in the night or on Saturdays during Shabbat,” Project Manager for PARC, Salem Nassr explained.

Water security in Palestine

Water security and the management of water resources is an essential feature to mitigate the rising temperatures and decreasing precipitation. The NGO Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG) aims to address these issues by improving the collection and storage of rainwater, reusing wastewater as well the maintaining of the groundwater level, by injecting aggregated water into the ground.

Executive Director of PHG, Ayman Rabi, told Palestine Monitor that in order for them to gain approval for wastewater treatment plants, approval must be sought from Israel under often difficult terms.

“The approval for water treatment plans is always set to certain conditions. For example, for a wastewater treatment plan, they will always put the condition that the settlements are included as beneficiaries of this project,” Rabi said. “If we don’t include the settlement, then we are not getting the permit.”

Fatena Hawadeh working in the Laboratory Unit, preparing the seeds for the germination and moisture test.

Another striking example of Israel’s restrictive water policy is the limited access of Palestine to its groundwater resources. The main groundwater resource stems from the Mountain Aquifer, from which Israel extracts up to 80 per cent. This unequal access leads to the current situation, in which limits Palestinian consumption of water to 70 litres a day per person compared to 250 litres a day person in Israel.

Rabi further explained that “we don’t have access to the water of the Jordan River. Therefore, we can only access groundwater. But we do not get sufficient amounts, as we are only accessing 15 per cent of the available resources in Palestine”.

Raising temperatures are endangering the Palestinian agriculture

The consequences of climate change and limited water access are particularly noticeable in Palestinian agriculture. 

Droughts, shifting rainfall seasons and rising temperatures are putting small-scale farmers at particular risk. The first and only Palestinian seed bank, established in 2010 by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), offers an opportunity for those farmers to cope with the changing environmental circumstances.

According to the seed’s bank Manager at UAWC, Do’ a Zayed, the original purpose of the seed bank was to preserve traditional Palestinian seeds. 

“When we started collecting seeds in 2003, the impact of climate change was maybe not so clear, so in the beginning, we did not have a lot of beneficiaries,” Zayed explained. “But now, we have a lot of requests that we are not able to cover because our seeds are the only option for farmers in areas with no water resources and high temperatures.”

The increased demand is due to the seeds resilience in harsh conditions; they can be cultivated in regions with very high temperatures, with no pesticides, fertiliser and almost no water. Starting with five crops, the seed bank can now distribute 40 different traditional Palestinian crops seed, ranging from carrot, cucumber to okra seeds. 

There are currently 40 different seeds in the Storage Unit. This unit stores the seeds which are frequently requested by the farmers.

Nowadays, the seed bank can provide seeds for over 1000 families cultivating 50,000 dunams (5000 hectares).

“Our plan foresees that we expand our project to the whole West Bank and eventually to Gaza. Unfortunately, now we cannot provide beneficiaries in Gaza with seeds, as it is forbidden to transfer any genetic material across the border,” Zayed said.

The seed bank is an example of a Palestinian initiative focussed on mitigating the effects of climate change. But despite the Palestinian efforts, it becomes clear that the current restrictive policies will not lead to the necessary cooperation to elaborate an inclusive climate change action plan for Palestine.




Lead image: Sawsan al-Sarsor, an agricultural engineer in the entry unit, where the new seeds are typologies and cleaned.


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