Water project is a drop in the ocean on West Bank

With the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Palestinian Water Authority, one town on the West Bank now has access to plentiful water, giving Samua's mayor and townspeople something to celebrate.

"Samua will now have four times as much water," Mayor Jamal Abu al-Jadayel said.

A large reservoir and pipeline connecting it to a pumping station some 8km away are now in use. Estimates had put daily water use at between 10 and 25 litres per person on average, far below World Health Organization recommendations. That figure would now reach 40 L or even 70 L a day.

Improving water services for the town's 22,000 people solves only a fraction of the problem, however. According to conservative estimates, about 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank are not connected to water networks. The people must buy water and ship it in tanks or rely on cisterns and private wells.

Health officials have said these sources are many times more polluted and can cause illness. Furthermore, tanked water can cost more than twice as much as water from a network.

"The water we buy from tankers is expensive and not good quality," said Hannan Hawamde, a teacher. She also pointed to the recent drought, which left rainwater cisterns dry and increased dependency on purchased water. 

Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
A Palestinian woman in Samua washes clothes outdoors using tanked water as her house is not connected to the water network

Hefty price

The ICRC project in Samua will be complemented by a second one inside the village, this time under the auspices of the World Bank, which will improve existing pipes and connect all the residents to an internal distribution network to transfer the water from the reservoir directly to homes.

The downside to the project is the initial cost: each household will have to pay about $150 to connect to the network, which in the poor southern West Bank is a hefty price tag.

Samua, an ancient town with a Canaanite name, a city centre of Byzantine ruins and mosques hundreds of years old, is also famous for having been raided by the Israelis in a cross-border attack in 1966 an event widely held as a key incident leading to the 1967 Middle East War.


With the increase expected in water usage, the amount of wastewater will also rise, though Samua, like most of the West Bank, relies on septic tanks.

In some villages, like Aqaba in the Jordan Valley, remote and disconnected, many people though still use dry pits as toilets.

The main problem, besides unfit septic tanks, which leak into the aquifer, arises after the septic tanks are cleaned out, as there is only one waste-water treatment plant for the Palestinians in the West Bank. Most of the dirty water simply ends up dumped in rivers and streams, causing pollution.

Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
Palestinians in Samua, like other places in the West Bank, store water on their roofs. The water is tanked into an underground cistern and then pumped to the roof

Environmentalists and water experts say some 90 percent of the territory's waste-water is not treated and the only solution is building more treatment plants.

However, all water projects in the West Bank, including the digging of wells, require Israeli permission.

"We need to work in a positive and cooperative atmosphere in order to facilitate projects that improve the life of Palestinians and Israelis," said Ihab Barghouthi of the Palestinian Water Authority, noting that if the aquifer is saved, both sides will benefit.

The Israeli human rights group B'tselem has said Israel's policies in the West Bank, which include pumping water for civilian purposes and favouring its own settlers over the Palestinians, are a violation of international law.