Palestinian herders on brink of water crisis - ICRC

Herders in the West Bank are facing an "acute water shortage" and are on the "brink of an emergency", the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has warned, saying it was stepping in to provide immediate assistance, although a long-term solution was needed to fix the problem.

The problem is both natural and man-made, stemming from three successive years of drought and a frost during the past winter, as well as Israeli restrictions on movement which prevent access to water, the ICRC said.

"Herders have less and less access to grazing land for their livestock," said Katharina Ritz, head of the ICRC's mission in Jerusalem, in a 10 July statement. "And the land to which they do have access just isn't enough because it's overgrazed and there have been frequent droughts."

The access problems were caused by Israeli settlements, ring-roads, nature reserves and expanding military zones which, taken together, are preventing Palestinian herders from moving their herds from place to place in search of grazing land and water, the ICRC said.

The expanding military zones are affecting destitute villages like al-Hadadiya in the Jordan Valley, whose residents have been displaced several times and who struggle to obtain water for their makeshift homes.

The Israeli perspective

Israel has said the restrictions on movement are needed to mitigate security threats. A senior defence official, who insisted on speaking off the record, said the problems the herders faced stem from the drought and population growth.

"A well that suited their needs in the past, is no longer enough for the larger family," he said.

Furthermore, Israeli officials said they were working on development plans for certain Palestinian villages and towns, which may help some with their water access issues. Other Palestinians, like those in al-Hadadiya, who are considered to have "illegally invaded" the land - and face eviction and demolition orders - will continue to have trouble.



Photo: Helge Kvam/ICRC
The ICRC does an emergency water distribution in Massafar Yatta south of Hebron which is the worse affected area

The farmers have also complained that Israel limits their ability to dig wells and access existing water sources, favouring its settlers over the Palestinian population.

These issues, combined with rising fodder prices, are forcing Palestinian shepherds to sell off their livestock. Some have told IRIN that if there is no change in the situation they will end up losing all their sheep and goats, leaving them without the herds that have sustained their families for generations.

ICRC distributes water

For now, the ICRC has distributed water to some affected shepherds, numbering some 50,000 people.

The first distribution took place in the drought-affected southern Hebron hills, one of the hardest hit areas, helping some 1,000 people and their 50,000 livestock.

In the short term, ICRC officials said, this will give the people a needed boost, but a long-term political solution for the territory was needed.

"The ICRC is seeking a more sustainable solution than trucking in water," said the ICRC’s Ritz. "But we were left with no choice - in the short term there is no alternative for these destitute communities."

In early July an Israeli rights group warned that throughout the West Bank Palestinians would face water shortages this summer.

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