Palestinians need Israeli know-how on water desalination

Article Summary
While Israel has desalination plants, the Palestinians do not have any; their lack of water is liable to result in a humanitarian disaster.

Even Israeli Minister of Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz, who is not suspected of being overly sympathetic to the Palestinians, recognizes that the average water consumption of the Israeli settlers is twice that used by the West Bank Palestinians — with a daily per capita water consumption of 200 liters [52.8 gallons] as against 100 liters [26.4 gallons]. Steinitz talked about the issue with reference to the address delivered to the Knesset [on Feb. 12] by European Parliament President Martin Schulz, which caused quite an uproar. However, the explanation provided by Steinitz for this is that, in general, the standard of living of the Palestinian population is lower than in Israel, and that this is the cause for the large gap, rather than deliberate discrimination on the part of Israel, as implied by Schultz.

Under the Oslo Accord, Israel has been left with control (although not full control) over the water resources across the country. It currently supplies to the Palestinians more than 50 million cubic meters [40,000 acre feet] of water a year — most of the Palestinian annual water consumption. Over the years, since the signing of the accord, the water sector in the country has undergone some important changes. The first and most important one is the development made in this field in Israel: Large desalination plants have been built, and there has been significant progress in wastewater [reclamation and] reuse. In fact, there is no longer any water shortage in Israel.

The farmers are still skeptical about wastewater reuse

While Israel has made great advances, the Palestinian water sector has stayed rather paralyzed. The Palestinian water system remains failing. Wastewater reuse is uncommon and traditionally, there is still reluctance about wastewater reuse.

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At a [Jan. 27] conference in Tel Aviv [held by Friends of the Earth Middle East and the Institute for National Security Studies] … it was noted that immediate action was required to resolve the water shortage, specifically in Gaza, as it was on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. There is not enough water in Gaza even for the most basic needs, and, as a consequence, childhood diseases are liable to spread in the Gaza Strip and reach Israel, as well. A report to this effect was published by The New York Times, among others.

One reason for the deterioration in Gaza is that no desalination plant has been built there. Due to political circumstances, there is suitable infrastructure in Gaza — energy facilities, in particular — for the establishment of such a plant. For one thing, the large gas field discovered off the coast of the Gaza Strip 14 years ago is still not utilized. To enable its [cost-effective] operation, Israel had to commit itself to purchase gas from the Gaza Marine gas field off the Gaza coast (however, at the time [in 2005], then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to buy gas from Egypt instead). Alternatively, Israel has to allow the construction of a gas pipeline running from Gaza to the West Bank, and possibly even further on, to Jordan.

A recently signed agreement involving Jordan may change the situation

All that may change following the implementation of the first phase of the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal project in line with the agreement signed two months ago [Dec. 9] between Israel (represented by Minister for Regional Cooperation Silvan Shalom), Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Under the agreement, a large desalination plant is to be built in Aqaba, which is designed to draw out in the first stage 200 million cubic meters [162,000 acre feet] of water from the Red Sea — 80 million cubic meters [65,000 acre feet] of which are to be transformed into drinking water, while the rest would be flowed into the Dead Sea. Jordan is to purchase 30 million cubic meters [24,000 acre feet] of desalinated water, and Israel is to buy 30 million to 50 million cubic meters [roughly 24,000 to 40,000 acre feet].

The Palestinians are partners to the agreement since a quarter of the Dead Sea is located in the West Bank. And what’s more, they will be able to purchase from Israel some additional 30 million cubic meters of [desalinated] water per year — an extra supply that would no doubt help to resolve the water shortage problem in the territories.

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Found in: west bank, water management, water desalination, palestinians, israeli-palestinian conflict, israel, gaza strip
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