A tale of two very different droughts

Haaretz contributor Nehemia Shtrasler writes:

“Israel is still drying up,” shrieks the Water Authority, and it’s right. The last winter did not end the drought, which has now lasted five years. It has been the worst uninterrupted period of aridity for 80 years. Yet does anybody really care?
The Shekel Drops / Water, hypocrisy and politics, Haaretz

I care, actually. But not for the same reasons.

I took an environmental science class during my senior year of high school. My teacher was tremendously enthusiastic and through him, I was introduced to various environmental crises including the global water shortage. And with the earth’s surface temperatures rising to record highs, I feel compelled to consider water an endangered species [of molecule]. For this reason, Israel’s water crisis doesn’t shock me.

But I wouldn’t be shocked anyways, and here’s why:

Israel’s citizens, like those of developed countries worldwide, benefit year-round from unlimited running water to meet their household needs. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians suffer from a severe water shortage throughout the summer.

Water shortages are a daily occurrence for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the dry spell isn’t limited to just the last five years. Even before the water-sharing agreements of the second round of Oslo Accords in 1995, Palestinians have been forced to endure an even more extreme drought – one that is politically- rather than environmentally-induced.

I’ve experienced the dry spell first hand. In my last visit to the Gaza Strip in 2004, the faucets worked only half the time. I thought living without electricity or internet was hard, but water insecurity really puts a damper on one’s life. No bathroom, no laundry, no showers, and no homemade dinner. If I was thirsty, I had to travel to the nearest store for a warm juice box.

Luckily, experiences like these were recognized by delegates at the Third World Water Conference in Kyoto in 2003. Of the 21 international water disputes analyzed and assessed by the conference’s attendees, 18 involved Israel’s control of Palestinian water resources.

Although the underground reservoirs and surrounding river basins are to be shared equally by residents of the area, there exists a large disparity between the amount of water reaching Palestinian territory and the amount of water reaching Israeli territory. According to a United Nations press release:

[Since 1993] Israel had confiscated 85 per cent of Palestinian water
March 25, 2010

If the archeologists hired to dig through Jerusalem ever get an opportunity to dig elsewhere, they should come across an intricate underground pipe system that leads to various Israeli towns and settlements. Water use in Israel is unrestricted, and to keep up with demand, water is normally rerouted away from its intended Palestinian destination.

The difference in water consumption is astounding but expected. The average Israeli uses between four and six times as much water as the average Palestinian. While Israelis frolic in 400-liter oceans, Palestinians are forced to ration water just to reach the 70-liters-a-day mark. Sad thing is, the World Health Organization recommends daily access to at least 100 liters of water per day.

It is without a doubt that Israel is facing a five-year drought, if that’s what you want to call it. After all, it’s the Middle East, to which “arid” and “extremely hot” are synonyms. But it goes without say that Palestinians are experiencing a far worse and seemingly endless drought, one that involves petty politics as well.

Before Israel’s Water Authority convinces the Knesset to siphon off even more Palestinian water as a solution to its alleged water deficit, I have two solutions. First, cut back on water consumption. Second, and much more importantly, eliminate illegal water restrictions against the Palestinians. While the Water Authority complains about a drought that has yet to impact water accessibility in Israel, Palestine has been drying up since 1967.

Article published on Mondoweiss here.

Sami Kishawi

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