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UN calls for water equity between Israelis and Palestinians

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UN calls for water equity between Israelis and Palestinians

The United Nations called for equitable distribution of water between Israelis and Palestinians, in a report delivered Friday during the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“It is estimated that nearly 660,000 Palestinians [in the West Bank] have limited access to water, with 420,000 consuming less than 50 liters on average daily per capita, which is well below the 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization,” the report stated.

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The report was authored by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and her office. It was delivered by her office’s Director of Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division Christian Salazar Volkmann.

It noted that the situation was particularly problematic in both Gaza and in Area C of the West Bank.

“Roughly 14,000 Palestinians in approximately 180 communities in Area C have no connection to a water network, are without water infrastructure, and are considered at high risk for water scarcity,” the report stated.

 Sewage water flowers in Wadi Gaza, in the central Gaza Strip, September 26, 2021.  (credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90) Sewage water flowers in Wadi Gaza, in the central Gaza Strip, September 26, 2021. (credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)

Only 10 percent of the two-million people that live in Gaza have direct access to clean and safe drinking water, the report explained, 

Climate change and population growth play a role in water scarcity in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, the report continued, adding that the Palestinian population is expected to increase from 5.2  -7.2 million by 2030.

Aging infrastructure also contributes to water loss, according to the report. “One-third of all water supplied to the Palestinian Authority is lost to leakage due to the poor condition of pipelines and water grids linking Palestinian communities in the West Bank,” the UN said.

It is expected that there will be an “annual domestic supply gap for Gaza and the West Bank of approximately 79 and 92 million cubic meters (MCM) respectively” by 2030 unless changes are made to the situation, the report stated.

The UN also blamed the geo-political situation, explaining the inequitable system of water distribution set by the Oslo Accords is not equipped to handle the needs of the Palestinian population almost 30 years later.

The Oslo Accords created a Joint Water Commission made up of an equal number of Israelis and Palestinians. In practice, the report said, Israeli JWC members vetoed Palestinian projects.

Israeli policies give preferential treatment to its citizens, including in the settlements, the report said, adding that the existence of the settlements contributed to water issues in the West Bank. 

 View of the Israeli settlement of Yakir on June 11, 2020. (credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90) View of the Israeli settlement of Yakir on June 11, 2020. (credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)

The situation is compounded in Gaza, which lacks electricity and where essential infrastructure and facilities have been harmed by Hamas wars with Israel, the report explained. 

Restrictions placed by Israel on the entry of dual-use items into Gaza that could be confiscated by Hamas for military use have hampered reconstruction of essential water infrastructure, the report stated. The UN did note that Israel was working on a pipeline that would double the amount of water it sends to Gaza.

“Israel’s announcement on 25 August 2021 that it would increase water supply to Gaza by five MCM and allow entry of construction materials and non-humanitarian goods is a welcome step,” the UN said.

The report explained that Israel had not cooperated with the UN, ignoring its request for information and refusing to allow its staff entry into the country. In its conclusions it called on  both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take steps to address the situation.

At the UNHRC, the Institute for NGO Research disputed the findings of the report, which it charged was “based almost entirely on unverified claims from the Palestinian Authority” and NGOs that support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement.

“It adopts an extremist Palestinian narrative that politicizes water in order to further the PA’s anti-peace agenda,” a representative from the Institute told the UNHRC.

The report “falsely blames Israel for building delays, while completely downplaying that the PA boycotted the JWC from 2010-2017, rejected desalinization, and also deliberately torched necessary projects in East Jerusalem such as the Kidron Valley sewage treatment plant,” the representative from the Institute said.

LEFT-WING Israeli groups have also recently focused on the issue of water. A broad-based coalition of NGOs held a march in the South Hebron Hills on Saturday to highlight the matter, and to bring a cylinder of water to Palestinians in that area.

The issue of water was raised during the Agenda Item 7 discussion, under which the UN Human Rights Council is mandated to hold a debate on Israel’s alleged human rights abuses during each of its three annual sessions. It is the only country against which there is such a mandate.

Israel has argued that Agenda Item 7 is one of the examples of UNHRC bias. Both the US and Israel have unsuccessfully pushed for the council to abolish Agenda Item 7.

Mauritania on Friday spoke in support of the item, stating that eliminating it would only encourage Israeli “impunity.”

Israel, however, has made its case against Agenda Item 7 with most Western countries.

Out of all European or Western countries, only Luxembourg spoke during the Agenda Item 7 debate, which only included some 40 countries.

During the debate, Russia and China called for an immediate resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been frozen since 2014.

“We stress the importance of the quick launching of a substantive Palestine-Israeli peace process with the support of the Quartet of international intermediaries, which remains the only internationally recognized mechanism to accompany the Middle East settlement,” the Russian representative said.

She noted that Russia, which is part of the Quartet, “is ready for close cooperation with key regional players in order to find compromise solutions.” The other three members are the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

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UN calls for water equity between Israelis and Palestinians