The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Middle East's water problem

Chris McGreal of the Guardian has written an interesting analysis of the water problem in the Middle East in light of a recent water deal between Israel and Turkey.

Last week, Turkey agreed an extraordinary plan to ship millions of tons of water in giant tankers to Israel in a deal linked to hi-tech weapons shipments to Ankara. A few years ago the plan was to pump fresh water between the two countries in an undersea pipe, but the project was deemed prohibitively expensive. The tankers will still cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate and yet provide less than 3% of Israel's rapidly growing needs, which has led the finance minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to rubbish the scheme as unworkable.

Whether or not the deal goes ahead, Israel will continue to lie at the heart of growing competition for limited supplies of water - and disputes about ownership - that underpins the conflict with the Palestinians, afflicts negotiations with Syria and poses some of the hardest challenges to peace in the Middle East.

He also provides some interesting statistics about water usage in Israel/Palestine:

Under the Oslo peace agreement, Israel retained overall control of water from the West Bank. The Palestinians now regret the deal. "The defect is in the Oslo agreement," says Amjad Aleiwi, a hydrologist at the Palestinian Water Authority. "The fact is we can't even drill a well without approval from Israel, while they pump all the water they like into the settlements."

More than 80% of water from the West Bank goes to Israel. The Palestinians are allot ted just 18% of the water that is extracted from their own land. Palestinian villages and farmers are monitored by meters fitted to pumps and punished for overuse. Jewish settlers are not so constrained, and permitted to use more advanced pumping equipment that means the settlers use 10 times as much water per capita as each Palestinian.

"This has caused us huge problems," says Aleiwi. "Palestinians get less than 60 units a day when the international minimum is 150. The Israeli domestic use alone is 300 to 800 units. It's worse in Gaza. Much of the water is not potable. That's why they have a lot of health problems, a lot of diseases in knees and kidneys. How can it be that Jewish settlers get unlimited amounts of pure water and that just across a fence children have to drink polluted water?"