Increased water prices to hit most vulnerable, say NGOs

Israeli NGOs say a planned 40 percent rise in water prices in 2010 will hit the most vulnerable in society hardest.

Poor families spend some 100 NIS (US$27) a month on water but will have to spend another 40 NIS ($11) a month after the price increase.

The Negev Bedouins, a traditionally pastoral and semi-nomadic Arabic-speaking minority in the Negev desert, southern Israel, are among the poorest people in the country, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, and are expected to be worst affected by the price hike.

In Rahat, a Bedouin town in the Negev region, residents told IRIN they will have to revert to fetching water from ancient wells. One resident, who requested anonymity, said it would be like “going back to the dark ages” and warned of severe implications for hygiene. “We will go back to using back yards as toilets as we won’t be able to afford to flush our toilets,” he said.

Some 50,000 people live in Rahat. Over 20,000 are unemployed and some 14,000 rely on welfare assistance, according to local welfare providers. Overall, some 180,000 Bedouins live in the Negev area in both recognized townships and unrecognized villages.

Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu-Sabihan said poorer communities such as the Bedouins should receive subsidized water instead of being forced to pay more. ''It is an unnecessary extra burden for the weaker population,” he said.

Noam Tirosh, coordinator of the Negev Coexistence Forum, an NGO which promotes cooperation between the Jewish and Bedouin communities in the Negev region, told IRIN: “All of the weaker sectors will suffer but the Negev Bedouins, who by far are Israel's poorest sector, will suffer the most… It may only be a 40-50 NIS increase but it takes a big bite out of their meagre income.''

Staggered price rise

Photo: Edward Parsons/IRIN
A Negev Bedouin shepherd draws water from a cistern for his goats

The government has said water prices will be increased gradually: In January prices will rise by 25 percent; in June by another 16 percent; and at the beginning of 2011 by another two percent.

The extra revenue from the price rise will help finance more desalination plants following five years of drought, the government said.

Israel has three desalination plants (in Eilat, Ashkelon and Palmakhim) supplying 150 million cubic metres of drinking water a year. Two more plants are at various stages of planning.

Israel plans to have six desalination plants in operation by 2012 to supply 300 million cubic metres of water, nearly half the country’s household water consumption.

Erez Weissmen, director of Israel’s Water Works Association, has asked members of parliament to reconsider the price hike. “Water prices will go up a great deal in 2010. This will turn water into a commodity for the rich only,” he said.

Research conducted by the National Insurance Institute of Israel (NIOI) estimates that the price increase would cause a 0.3 percent increase in the poverty rate in Israel and that poorer sectors would be particularly hard hit.

“This data is worrisome, and it proves how increasing the price of one basic commodity can harm poor families,” Esther Dominissini, director-general of NIOI, told reporters.

Yedid, an NGO working to empower poorer sectors of society, is concerned the water price increase will widen the gap between rich and poor and increase poverty. “For people in the lower tenth [of society, financially] in Israel, this 50 NIS is crucial for buying needed medicine or food. This will harm the elderly, the working poor, people living on pensions, the unemployed, handicapped and more,'' Ran Melamed, deputy director of Yedid, told IRIN.