Ahmad Bani-Odeh, 10, fills a bucket with water in the Palestinian village of Al-Jiftlik, located in the northern Jordan Valley. (Photo: DCIP / Sevan Karakashian)
Ramallah, July 26, 2017—Jaser Shaban, 16, and his brother Mahmoud, 15, stay up at night to fill the house’s cisterns with water, as their section of Al-Jiftlik village in the northern Jordan Valley outside Jericho receives water from 11 p.m. until dawn every other week.
They turn on an electric pump to transfer water to the house’s cistern. Once it is full, they direct the pump to transfer water to the cistern designated for livestock use.
With poor electricity and low water pressure, the two brothers need to monitor the process until the tanks are full. Frequently, the pump stops working or the narrow pipes fill with air instead of water, jolting the brothers into action.
Jaser feels his responsibility greatly. “We would simply not have water the next day,” he said, to explain what would happen if something went wrong with the water transfer process and no one was on hand.
Gladly for the brothers, water receiving periods differ weekly based on the locally controlled water rotation schedule. One week it is from 11 p.m. until dawn; then from 4 p.m. until 11 p.m. the following week.
“We receive water from Mekorot company 24 hours a day. However, since the quantity is inadequate, we use a water rotation system,” explained Hussein al-Aidi, a resident who has taken on the role of managing Al-Jiftlik’s water rotation system.
“The length of time a neighborhood receives water depends on its population. One neighborhood has water for 14 hours per day while another has it for three hours only,” added al-Aidi.
Residents’ lives revolve around water receiving periods, impacting approximately 4,700 Palestinians living in the village, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately half of whom are children.
Since Al-Jiftlik is located in Area C, Israel controls civil matters in the Palestinian neighborhood, including issues related to infrastructure and planning.
With low water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure investment in the village, Al-Jiftlik is facing serious public health needs. Today, the village has no formal sanitation system, decaying water pipes, and inadequate access to water.
Their average water supply is 62 liters (16.3 gallons) per capita per day, some 38 liters (10 gallons) per capita per day less than the minimum water consumption level recommended by the World Health Organization. The water is used for human consumption, agriculture, livestock and household chores.
Since 1984, the Israeli national water company Mekorot has provided water to the village. While Al-Jifltik’s population has continued to grow, Mekorot’s water provision has not increased.
By contrast, the average water supply allocated to Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, which are illegal under international law, is around 487 liters (126.8 gallons) per capita per day, according to a settlement watch report by the Israeli Peace Now organization. This amounts to nearly eight times more than the consumption rate in Al-Jiftlik.
With badly maintained water infrastructure, and little-to-no water quality testing in Al-Jiftlik, according to local leaders DCIP spoke with, Israel’s discriminatory water practices leaves Palestinian children without adequate access to clean drinking water.
Al-Jiftlik’s clinic doctors reported that children’s hygiene is affected by water shortages. This exposes them to several infections that are usually transferred through unclean food and water.
According to Dr. Muntaser Sobuh who works in a local health clinic, the most common infection is amebiasis, a contagious parasitic infection that is transferred through the ingestion of unclean food or water. Poor hygiene habits, such as eating unwashed vegetables or improper hand-washing, act as the main sources of the infection.
In correspondence with DCIP, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society reported a total of 68 children under 14 who were treated from amebiasis in Al-Jiftlik clinic in 2016.
“We should treat the cause rather than the result,” said Sobuh. “Water tanks should be regularly cleaned along with the provision of health preventive guidance to Al-Jiftlik’s residents especially children.”
In addition to affecting children’s health, the water situation financially burdens families. Residents buy additional water, often in rusted tanks that are not regularly cleaned or inspected, from the nearby village of Furush Beit Dajan to meet their water needs. According to Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG), the average cost of water there is 30 NIS ($8.50) per 1000 liters (264 gallons).
Sadam Bani-Odeh, 9, recalls when water was cut off for nine consecutive days last summer. In that period, his family relied exclusively on purchased water. “I do not remember a time when we had enough water,” said Sadam.
Improving water access in the West Bank is difficult since all water-related projects are approved or denied by a Palestinian-Israeli Joint Water Committee (JWC) according to article 40 of the Oslo II Agreement.
As laid out by Oslo II in 1995, JWC contains equal numbers of Palestinian and Israeli members and must make decisions by consensus.
Scholar Jan Selby argues that this arrangement amounts to veto power for Israel, “given that the Oslo II regime only applies to the West Bank, this means that the PA enjoys no equivalent veto powers in relation to Israel.”
Examining JWC’s records between 1995 and 2008, Selby found that JWC approved 30 to 66 percent of Palestinian well projects and 50 to 80 percent of Palestinian water supply network projects compared to 100 percent of Israeli well and water supply network projects in the same period.
In an attempt to improve the water situation, PHG, in cooperation with the Assembly of Cooperation for Peace, installed a water pump in Al-Jiftlik. However, following the project’s launch in December 2016, PHG confirmed that Mekorot decreased water output to Al-Jiftlik. While official records are unavailable, al-Aidi estimates that the village now receives about half of the hourly water supply that it received previously.
Moreover, the Israeli civil administration handed a written demolition notice to the residents in May 2017, according to PHG, due to the absence of an Israeli building permit for the newly built water pump.