Saturday, October 31, 2020

Water shortages in Salfit enter fourth week as Ramadan draws to a close

By Lili Martinez - July 01, 2016
Section: [Main News]

As the month of Ramadan draws to a close, Palestinians are looking forward to the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which will mark an end to their month of abstaining from food and drink. But for residents of Salfit, north of Ramallah, the end of Ramadan won’t bring a relief from thirst. These residents, along with tens of thousands of others in the Northern West Bank, have been without adequate water resources for the entire holy month.

“Since June 4, the Israelis cut the water all of a sudden, without telling us, for 24 hours completely,” explained Saleh Afaneh, director of the Department of Water, Engineering and Sanitation at the Salfit municipality. The water came back on the next day, but only at 30 to 35% of the needs of the city, and has continued to flow at a reduced rate until today.

The municipality has tackled the water crisis head-on, organizing an Emergency Committee to keep residents informed about water availability. In the meantime, the city has been divided into three regions, and water is being pumped to each one in turn, allowing individual houses to receive water about once every three days.

“We agreed [the committee will] have to work 24 hours,” explained Afaneh. “Every 8 hours or so, someone replaces the other, because sometimes we have to follow house by house, we cannot wait and see that there is one house where the water didn’t reach.” The committee used Salfit’s local radio station to announce where the water was going and increase awareness about the crisis. “We asked [residents] to add more roof tanks for water, so they have storage of water at least for three days,” Afaneh said. But roof tanks are expensive, and currently in short supply.

Water shortages have been common during the summer for several years, in Salfit as in most of the West Bank. But residents say this time is worse. Where to lay the blame, however, is an issue fraught with political tension.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah issued a statement earlier this month decrying the water shutoff. “Israel wants to prevent Palestinians from leading a dignified life and uses its control over our water resources to this end,” Hamdallah said in the statement. “While Israeli settlements enjoy uninterrupted water service, Palestinians are forced to spend great sums of money to buy water that is theirs in the first place.”

Salfit sits on the largest aquifer in the West Bank, but due to agreements set forth in the 1994 Oslo accords, the Palestinian Authority only controls about 20 percent of the water flow from the aquifer. Israel controls the other 80 percent, and in recent years, they have taken control of even more.

A quarter of the region’s water is actually supplied by an Israeli water company, Mekorot. As demand for water — in Palestinian villages and surrounding Israeli settlements — increases during the hot summer months, Mekorot claims it must reduce the supply to keep up with increased summer consumption. But Afaneh says shortages are not affecting the nearby settlements the same way.

“If you go down to the spring, you will see hundreds of people trying to fill bottles with water to drink. But if you go to the settlements, they have no shortages at all. We have Palestinians working in the settlements and they told us they didn’t feel any shortages of water,” Afaneh said.

Mekorot told Al Jazeera they had been forced to make a “broad reduction of the supply to all residents in the area.” And Uri Schor, a spokesman for Israel’s water authority, told AFP that any shortages are caused by a “total refusal” by Palestinian officials to replace rusty and corroded pipelines.

However, the Palestinian Authority must obtain permission from the Israeli water authority and the Joint Water Committee (JWC) for virtually any repair. Camilla Corradin, a former employee of the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group (EWASH), explained that all improvements to water infrastructure require an Israeli permit.

“Everywhere in the West Bank - Areas C, A and B - you need to get a permit from Israel, since the [Oslo II] agreement of '95,” she told Palestine Monitor. “Because the water from the aquifer is shared, Israel has power over Palestinian projects. As a result, the rate of acceptance for Palestinian projects is around 50 percent, while Israel gets permits for almost 100 percent of its projects.” In protest of a perceived bias, Palestine has not participated in JWC meetings for several years.

Therefore, while digging a deep well in the Salfit region could alleviate the water shortage, getting a permit for this type of project has proven almost impossible. “We are looking for a strategic solution, and the only one we feel is to have our own well for water,” Afaneh said. “Unfortunately we have asked the Palestinian Water Authority for more than 15 or 20 years to have a well owned by Salfit, and until now we have not succeeded in that.”

In the absence of local wells, many families have resorted to buying water at the store for daily drinking, and buying from expensive water trucks to fill their rooftop tanks. But Shaher Eshteh, mayor of Salfit, banned most water trucks from the city because of their exorbitant prices.

If you go down to the spring, you will see hundreds of people trying to fill bottles with water to drink. But if you go to the settlements, they have no shortages at all.

At home in Salfit, Samir Rammal and his wife Yusra are lucky; the water is back today. Yusra is busy upstairs washing four days’ worth of her family’s clothes. Dirty dishes surround the sink. “I woke up this morning and went quickly to check if the water was here or not,” Yusra told Palestine Monitor. “When I saw there was water, I went to wash the clothes to take advantage of the fact that the water was back on in the house.”

For Samir, professor at nearby Birzeit University, the lack of water means being unable to provide for his family.. “When you don’t have water, you feel angry, you feel that you can’t do anything. My wife is pale, she cries all night because she can’t do anything at all - even cook us food,” he said to Palestine Monitor.

The family said they hope the problem will be solved quickly, especially because lack of water only increases tensions between Palestinians and settlers. “We have never really cared about what’s going on, because we believe that violence can never bring any solution,” Samir said. “If we don’t get together and solve this problem […] then nobody can live in peace in this area.” 

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