by David Harris, Huang Heng
JERUSALEM, May 27 (Xinhua) -- As many Palestinians in the West Bank living on just 15 liters of water per day, the World Bank believed "the water crisis has reached a humanitarian scale."
Pier Francesco Mantovani, the organization's lead water supply and sanitation specialist for the Middle East and North Africa, made the comment during an environmental conference in Jerusalem Wednesday after the World Bank published a report on the water situation in the Palestinian areas, with a focus on the West Bank.
According to the World Health Organization, the minimum quantity of water needed for short-term survival is 30 liters per capita per day.
PALESTINIANS BLAME ISRAEL
The World Bank report, an assessment of restrictions on water-sector development in the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), said that a fifth of all Israeli fresh water came from the western aquifer -- a water line within the West Bank, whose natural drainage direction is towards the Mediterranean Sea and the major Israeli conurbations.
The report claimed that Israelis use far more water per capita than the Palestinians, with consumption in Israel some three times higher than in the West Bank.
The report said in the interim outlined by Oslo II agreement signed in 1995, there had been a lack of investment and the Palestinians have an inefficient water utility service. "The Palestinian territories are fraught with poor performing utilities," Mantovani said.
The Oslo II, which created an interim framework ahead of the creation of a Palestinian state, referred to a five-year period to create a viable Palestinian state.
However, fourteen years later there is no state, and the parties still use Oslo II as a term of reference, even though so much has changed on the ground since then.
Mantovani's comment was agreed with by Fuad Bateh, the legal adviser to the Palestinian Water Authority, "but the exogenous factors are overwhelming."
By that he meant the Palestinians may operate inefficiently but that was a minimal factor compared to Israel's policies when it came to divvying up water resources.
Israel had "obligations as an occupier under international humanitarian law," he said. "The West Bank could produce its own water resources if it obtained its equitable and reasonable allocation in accordance with international law."
ISRAEL QUESTIONS WORLD BANK REPORT
Israel is largely unhappy with the report. "We don't see ourselves in a situation where we have to justify any of the blame," said Yossi Dreisen, a consultant to the Israel Water Authority.
"The study was requested by the Palestinian (National) Authority," the Israeli expert also present at the conference questioned the accuracy of the statistics presented by the World Bank in its report.
Dreisen argued that since Israel took control of the West bank from Jordan in the wake of the 1967 War, the total consumption of water by Palestinians in the West Bank had tripled while Israeli per capita consumption per year in the same period reduced dramatically -- from an annual 508 cubic meters per person to 170.
In a look at the broader region, Dreisen maintained that Israel was at the low end of per capita water consumption.
On multi-annual average, he said, Lebanon ranked highest according to Israeli statistics with 949 cubic meters, followed by Syria with 861, Egypt 732, Jordan 172 and the Palestinians 105.
Yet Bateh countered that from 1967 "no new wells have been developed in the western aquifer region. Since 1967 this has been Israel's policy."
LESS RESTRICTION, MORE COOPERATION
With so many statistics, claims and counter claims, it was difficult for common attendees of the Wednesday's conference to know who is telling the truth, but the World Bank report made certain key comments that Israel found difficult to argue against.
"We wonder if the restrictions might be excessive," said Mantovani, referring to Israel's security grip on the West Bank. "Because of political and security concerns, our aid is increasingly focused on emergency projects... not building optimal infrastructure for the Palestinians."
Speaking more generally about the lack of water in Israel and its immediate neighborhood, Israel Water Authority Chairman Uri Shani tried to explain that one cannot see the water issue merely in terms of the last few years.
"Since 1900, 25 million additional people have moved into the region," he said referring to Israel, the Palestinian areas, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
He warned against over extraction of water from any source. "Losing an aquifer, for whatever reason, would be catastrophic and irreversible."
In terms of planning ahead, Shani warned that rainfall would decrease in the Mediterranean Basin over the next 50 years.
In the shorter term, he said he did not know "whether we are at the end or in the middle, but so far we've had five consecutive years of drought."
The World Bank's report echoed Shani's worries, saying Israelis and Palestinians would need to improve water-conservation behavior and techniques in order to ensure a long-lasting water supply.
The World Bank suggested it was time for the relevant authorities and jointed Israeli-Palestinian water committee to end the asymmetry of power, plan together and create an efficient system whereby all residents of the region could obtain sufficient pure water and plenty of water would be made available to farmers, so that residents could ensure their livelihood and provide sufficient food for future generations.