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West Bank Palestinians face water shortages

/ Source: The Associated Press

West Bank Palestinians are suffering a serious water shortage this year as a severe drought exacerbates already existing supply problems, the head of the Palestinian Water Authority said Sunday.

Shadad Ateli said since mid-May, many Palestinians have been going without water for hours, and sometimes days at a time, because of reduced supply as a regional drought enters its fifth year. He called on Israel, which controls some 90 percent of water sources in the West Bank to rethink its water policies.

"Water shouldn't be a part of the conflict. It should be divided according to human needs equally," Ateli said.

Uri Shani, spokesman for Israel's Water Authority, says Palestinians are receiving more water than their agreed share under an interim peace deal. The drought has affected Israel as well, with fresh water supplies below their acceptable minimum, but there have been no cases of community water supplies being cut off.

A recent report by Israeli human rights group B'Tselem described water distribution as "unfair" and called on Israel to rectify the "built-in, constant shortage of water in the West Bank."

Running water scarce in some villages
In the city of Nablus, residents report only receiving running water once a week. In the nearby village of Salem, there hasn't been running water for months and a nearby well is going dry. Residents there say they pay for expensive water brought in by tanker truck.

Most Palestinians have already used up water they conserve from rainfall in large rooftop barrels, B'Tselem reported.

Under interim agreement signed with Palestinians in 1995, Palestinians receive an allocated supply from Israel. Every summer, there are shortages, but this year the problem is made much worse by a fifth year of continuing drought, Ateli said at a news conference in Ramallah.

Palestinian negotiators had expected to work out a better water deal in a final status agreement that was meant to be concluded in 2000. Instead, fighting broke out between Israel and Palestinians, and eight years later, the water allocation system has remained as it was.

Ateli said Israel allows Palestinians to drill limited amounts from two West Bank aquifers — but this year, they could only drill 105 million liters instead of 118 million liters in previous years because one of the aquifers is drying up. Israel's national water company also sells Palestinians another 50 million liters of water.

Talks haven't included water sharing
Current peace talks between the two sides have not touched on water sharing yet, said Ateli, who is representing Palestinians in negotiations on water with Israel.

West Bank residents use around 15 gallons of water a day, two-thirds of what the World Health Organization recommends for urban needs. In northern villages that number drops to 7 gallons a day.

Daily water consumption in Israeli cities is 60 gallons per capita, B'Tselem reported.

Shani said the Palestinian Authority was not cracking down on herders who steal water supplies — a problem Palestinians acknowledge — and could recycle waste water for agriculture, as Israel does. He said that could boost supplies by 30 to 40 million cubic liters.

"The only solution to this problem is creating more water," Shani said.