Main aquifer endangered by untreated sewage

An important water source for both Israelis and Palestinians is in danger due to pollution from sewage, a new Israeli governmental report stated.

[Read this report in Arabic]

About 2.8 million people, including Palestinians and Israeli settlers, live in the West Bank, but "due to conflicts and economic problems, the effluents of more than two million people do not go through efficient pollution treatment", the report by the Israeli Ministry of Environment, the Civil Administration in the West Bank and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), stated.

"The most important thing here is the damage to the water resources, which are the resources of both sides, the Israelis and Palestinians," Omri Gal, a spokesman for INPA, told IRIN.

The sewage has penetrated the soil, polluting groundwater and springs. The authors warn that the mountain aquifer under the West Bank is highly sensitive to pollution and damage to the resource may be irreversible.

The report, based on extensive monitoring of streams, said 94 percent of Palestinian sewage in the West Bank went untreated or was partially treated and ended up in rivers and streams, while only slightly more than 1 percent was treated in the whole of the occupied Palestinian territories. About 30 percent of the Israeli sewage in the territory went untreated.

Had the effluent been purified, it could have been used in agriculture, helping to mitigate the ongoing water crisis in Israel and the oPt, the authors said.

Up to 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank produce an estimated 56 million cubic metres of sewage per year, compared with 17.5 million by the 400,000 settlers – almost double the volume of sewage per head that Palestinians produce.

Human rights groups have warned about unfair water distribution in the West Bank, saying the existing policy favoured the settlers over the Palestinians.

The report was the second by the Israeli authorities on stream monitoring, but, said experts, was far more comprehensive than the one released last year.

The main problem was a lack of infrastructure for treating sewage in the West Bank, the report found.

Palestinians have long complained that the options presented to them by the Israelis for building treatment plants would tie Palestinian cities and villages to the settlements.

Gal, from the parks authority, said he hoped the report would lay the groundwork to clarify where the problems lay in the territory, so that they could be addressed.

"This will be a good tool for the donors to know exactly what the problem is," he said.

shg/at/mw