Water is one of the most important and scarce resources in the Middle East. The development opportunities of the population and their standard of living depend on its availability. Therefore, the Middle East conflict is not just about land, but also about this precious raw material.
Since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in June 1967, Israel has controlled the water resources there and placed them under military administration.
In the Oslo II Agreement of September 1995 (Article 40, Annex III, Protocol for Civil Affairs), Israel recognized the Palestinian water rights. For an interim period of five years, the amount of water that the Palestinians are entitled to have been set. However, these could not be realized and meanwhile the demand has increased significantly due to the growing population. It was also agreed that the existing Israeli usage levels in the West Bank (approximately 80% of the amount of water ingress from the mountain aquifer, which is largely fed by rainfall over the West Bank) should be maintained. The overall control of water resources (with the exception of the coastal aquifer) kept Israel.
According to ELAINEQHO, the Palestinian water rights should be clarified in the final status negotiations within the framework of the Oslo peace process. However, these final status negotiations did not materialize. And so the transitional regulations that were actually only intended for five years have been applied to this day. As a result, the Palestinians do not have adequate access to the groundwater of the West Bank.
Article 40 of Annex III of the Oslo II Agreement also stipulates the assumption of administrative responsibility for the water supply in the Palestinian territories by the Palestinian Water Authority and the establishment of a joint Israeli-Palestinian water committee, which is responsible for water and wastewater-related infrastructure projects in the Approve West Bank.
The interim agreement did not specify rights of use for the Jordan and the coastal groundwater reservoir, so that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank still has no access to the Jordan, which only has a tenth of its original water volume due to water abstraction by the Arab states and Israel. Regarding the coastal aquifer, a lack of procedural rules has meant that both Palestinians and Israelis can withdraw water without control or restriction.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the official total amount of water available in the Palestinian Territories in 2018 was 389.5 million cubic meters. 274.2 million cubic meters of water (70.4%) came from groundwater resources, 85.7 million cubic meters (22%) were purchased from the Israeli water company Mekorot, 25.5 million cubic meters (6.5%) came from Palestinian sources and 4.1 million cubic meters (1.1%) were obtained through seawater desalination. The amount of safe drinkable water, however, is only about 217.2 million cubic meters, since about 97%of the groundwater extracted in the Gaza Strip does not meet WHO standards. Consumption per capita and day is given as 87.3 liters per capita and day for the entire Palestinian territories excluding East Jerusalem, for the West Bank with 90.5 liters per capita and day and for the Gaza Strip with 83.1 liters per capita and day. This is significantly less than the minimum amount of 100 liters specified by the World Health Organization (WHO) that every person should have available per day.
However, this amount of water cannot be equated with actual domestic consumption. According to the PCBS, a total of 66.4 million cubic meters were lost in 2018 through ailing infrastructure and water theft (30.8 million cubic meters in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) and 35.6 million cubic meters in the Gaza Strip). In addition, the figures include the amount of water that is not used for domestic consumption but for business and tourism, or is supplied to mosques and public buildings. In 2016 it varied from 26 liters / person / day in Yatta to over 250 liters / person / day in Jericho, in villages without a connection to the water supply it is in some cases only 20 liters per person and day.
The water situation in the Gaza Strip is particularly precarious. Due to the constant overuse of the coastal aquifer due to the lack of availability of alternative water sources, the water table has sunk and salt water has seeped in. Untreated wastewater also pollutes the groundwater. Only 3-4% of the withdrawn water meets the quality standards of the World Health Organization for drinking water. Part of the problem is that the population has responded to the water shortage by expanding private well drilling and the Palestinian Water Authority is unable to regulate this. Two parallel water authorities do not make the situation any easier. Private companies, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, Public bodies as well as aid organizations operate reverse osmosis units. However, many plants supply contaminated water, most are not licensed, many use water from unlicensed wells and it is six times more expensive than regular water. There are now three small desalination plants in the Gaza Strip. A big, central desalination plant is being planned, which will initially deliver 55 million cubic meters of water annually to meet the large water needs of the growing population, but it will take some time to complete.
Around 93% of the population in the Palestinian Territories are connected to the water network, but only 30% of households in the Gaza Strip and 50% of households in the West Bank had water for limited hours a day in 2016, according to the World Bank. Around 15% of the population in the Gaza Strip and 48% of the population in the West Bank had access to running water for less than 10 days a month in 2018. As a result, 97% of the population in the Gaza Strip and 92% of the population in the West Bank have water tanks on their roofs or in their courtyards. In addition, there are many Palestinians who obtain water from tankers, although this water is much more expensive than tap water and is often of dubious quality.