Water-Apartheid in the Palestinian Territories

water

The right to safe drinking water is recognised by the United Nations as a fundamental human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and an adequate standard of living”. The UN calls upon all states to ensure that every person, “without discrimination”, has access to “sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use”.

Yet this is a distant reality for millions of Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip; instead they live with water that is contaminated, overpriced and chronically short in supply.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 95% of groundwater extracted from the Coastal Aquifer is so heavily contaminated it is “unfit for human consumption” according to UNICEF. After decades of over-exploitation by Palestinian and Israeli authorities, Gaza’s only aquifer has become severely depleted and susceptible to seawater and sewage contamination. Water shortages and widespread contamination are compounded by lasting conflict between Israel and Gaza’s de facto Hamas administration: in 2014 this conflict saw crucial water infrastructure targeted and destroyed by Israeli airstrikes. Subsequently, Israel’s long-standing blockade on Gaza continues to restrict the entry of specialist materials needed to rebuild and repair this damaged infrastructure.

DESALINATION vs electricity

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the right of Palestinians to safe water is systematically undermined through an unequal water-sharing agreement with Israel: the 1995 Oslo II Accord. This agreement grants Israel exclusive control of roughly four times the Palestinian allocation of ‘shared’ water resources, despite Israelis and Israeli settlers comprising a vastly smaller proportion of the West Bank’s population. The disparity in water consumption is shocking: a 2013 report by local NGO Al-Haq found that 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank collectively consumed over six times as much water as 2.6 million Palestinians.

Moreover, a discriminatory permit regime enables Israel to prevent Palestinians from building and maintaining water infrastructure in the West Bank. Where building work has taken place without Israeli approval, authorities have demolished vital structures including basic latrines, water tanks and piping networks serving Palestinian communities.

Faced with chronic water shortages and widespread contamination, many Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank spend between 20-30% of their income purchasing overpriced water from Israeli water company Mekorot or other unregulated private vendors.

This is a hugely unjust situation.

 

Advertisements

Yemen’s Humanitarian Crisis

The relentless conflict in Yemen continues to devastate the lives of civilians, following the breakdown of the latest ceasefire between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition.

The fleeting 48-hour truce ended without extension on the 21st November after both sides accused each other of violating the peace, and failed to reach a diplomatic agreement. This marks the latest in a series of failed UN and US-led attempts to end the violence and destruction that has ravaged the country since early 2015.

The war in Yemen has unleashed a humanitarian crisis of critical proportions, resulting in at least 10,000 deaths and displacing around 3 million people from their homes. Recent conservative estimates suggest at least 21.2 million people, or 82% of Yemen’s total population, are in need of humanitarian aid amid worsening food and water shortages.

yemen-1242263_960_720

According to UNICEF some 1.5 million Yemeni children are suffering acute malnutrition or starvation, and millions of women and children must walk long distances every day to access the little clean water that is available. On top of this, rapidly spreading outbreaks of cholera and measles have put countless more lives in danger.

The humanitarian situation has been compounded by the imposition of an air and naval blockade by Saudi Arabia. This has restricted Yemen’s regular food and fuel imports, and crucially reduced accessibility for the numerous aid agencies attempting to deliver life-saving food, water and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Saudi-led airstrikes have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law by targeting civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. A recent World Health Organisation survey found that just 45% of Yemen’s health facilities are fully-functional and accessible, while over half have been severely damaged or destroyed as a result of the conflict. Doctors and medical workers have repeatedly been driven out of hospitals due to safety concerns, and there is a desperate shortage of fuel for ambulances. The conflict has crippled Yemen’s health infrastructure and consequently restricted access to basic healthcare for millions of people in need.

As a consequence of these conditions, despite their best efforts, aid agencies and NGOs operating in Yemen – including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam and UNICEF – have been significantly hindered in their attempts to alleviate the anguish of Yemeni civilians.

Amidst such terrible suffering, it is vital for both sides of the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians from harm. According to the UNHCR almost 181,000 people have fled war-torn Yemen to seek refuge in neighbouring countries; for those who have no means of escaping the violence, the future looks bleak unless a peaceful diplomatic solution can be reached.

Amy Simon 30/11/16