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World Bank: Israel drawing more than its share from Green Line aquifers

Original article at the Jerusalem Postjerusalempost

Israel extracts 50 percent more water from the three aquifers it shares with the Palestinian Authority than it is authorized to do, the World Bank charged in a report issued Monday.

The report presents findings from the fourth in a series of studies on the impact of Israel’s restrictions on movement and access by people and goods in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The latest study found that while the PA was responsible for many of the problems having an impact on its severe water shortage, it was also suffering from what amounted to Israeli control over the distribution of water from shared resources.

In addition, it found that the average per capita amount of fresh water available to Israelis was four times as high as that available to Palestinians, while in the agricultural sector it was five times as high.

The study also found that since Israel came into control of the West Bank in 1967, it has been exploiting all of the water from the Jordan River.

Under the 1995 Oslo II Accords, Israel was given rights to 75 to 80% of the water supply from the Western, North-eastern and Eastern Aquifers that straddle the Green Line. At the time, the estimated potential of the aquifers was 679 million cubic meters per year. Israel was supposed to take about 540 million cu.m. but in fact has been extracting 871 million.

The agreement on water resources was meant to last for five years, as long as the interim agreement itself, with permanent arrangements to be negotiated as part of a final status agreement. However, in the absence of such an agreement, the interim arrangement has remained in effect.

The World Bank study found that Palestinians from lower socio-economic strata who are connected to the PA’s central water supply spend 8% of their household budget on water, which is twice the globally-accepted standard. Those who are not connected spend as much as one-sixth and even more of their household budget on water.

The study also found that the impact of the water shortage on the Palestinian agricultural sector was severe, estimating that it had caused a loss of up to 10% of the PA’s Gross Domestic Product, and 110,000 jobs.

The report pointed out that Israel controls the Joint Water Committee (JWC) established under Oslo II to deal with water issues, including projects to develop new water supplies. It added that “records suggest” that the committee approved all but one of the Israeli-proposed projects for development in the West Bank between 2001 and 2008, but only 50% of the projects proposed by the PA.

For example, there are 106 water projects and 12 large-scale waste water projects in the PA that have yet to be approved by the JWC, some of them going back to 1999. The report stated that the water projects would have benefited 1.1 million Palestinians, and the waste water projects 800,000.

It also noted that Israel does not request permission from the JWC for projects within the Green Line that involve the aquifers.

“The JWC does not function as a ‘joint’ water resource government institution because of the fundamental asymmetries of power, of capacity, of information and of interests that prevent the development of a consensual approach to resolving water management conflicts,” the report said.

Responding to the report, the regional environment organization Eco Peace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) called on the “Israeli government and the PA to replace the failed JWC with a new joint water management structure.” It also called on the Quartet and US President Barack Obama to “focus on the dire Palestinian water economy as a matter of urgency.”

No response to the report was available from the Government Water and Sewage Authority or the Ministry of National Infrastructure.

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