UN calls for water justice between Israelis and Palestinians

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The United Nations called for an equitable distribution of water between Israelis and Palestinians in a report presented Friday during the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“It is estimated that nearly 660,000 Palestinians [in the West Bank] have limited access to water, with 420,000 per capita consuming less than 50 liters per day on average, well below the 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization, ”the report said.

The report was written by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and her office. It was handed over by Christian Salazar Volkmann, the head of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation department in her office.

He noted that the situation was particularly problematic in both Gaza and Zone C of the West Bank.

“Around 14,000 Palestinians in around 180 communities in Zone C have no access to a water network, have no water infrastructure and are considered to be at high risk of water scarcity,” the report said.

Sewage flowers in Wadi Gaza, in the central Gaza Strip, September 26, 2021. (Image: ABED RAHIM KHATIB / FLASH90)

Only 10 percent of the two million people living in Gaza have direct access to clean and safe drinking water, the report said.

Climate change and population growth play a role in water scarcity in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, the report said, adding that the Palestinian population is projected to increase from 5.2 million to 7.2 million by 2030.

Aging infrastructure is also contributing to water loss, according to the report. “A third of all water supplied to the Palestinian Authority is lost to leaks due to the poor condition of the pipelines and water networks that connect Palestinian communities in the West Bank,” the UN said.

There is expected to be “an annual domestic supply gap for Gaza and the West Bank of approximately 79 and 92 million cubic meters (MCM), respectively,” by 2030 if the situation does not change, the report said.

The UN also blamed the geopolitical situation, stating that the unjust system of water distribution established by the Oslo Accords was inadequate for the needs of the Palestinian people almost 30 years later.

The Oslo Accords created a joint water commission made up of equal parts from Israelis and Palestinians. In practice, the report says, Israeli JWC members vetoed Palestinian projects.

Israeli policies give preferential treatment to their citizens, including in the settlements, the report said, adding that the existence of the settlements has contributed to the water problems in the West Bank.

    View of the Israeli settlement of Yakir on June 11, 2020 (Photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT / FLASH90) View of the Israeli settlement of Yakir on June 11, 2020 (Photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT / FLASH90)

The situation is worsening in Gaza, where there is a lack of electricity and where essential infrastructure and facilities have been damaged by Hamas wars with Israel, the report said.

Israeli restrictions on the entry of dual-use items into the Gaza Strip that could be seized by Hamas for military purposes have hampered the rebuilding of essential water infrastructure, the report said. The UN has determined that Israel is working on a pipeline that would double the amount of water it sends to Gaza.

“Israel’s announcement on August 25, 2021 that it would increase the Gaza Strip’s water supply by five MCM and allow imports of building materials and non-humanitarian goods is a welcome move,” the UN said.

The report stated that Israel had not cooperated with the United Nations, ignored its requests for information and refused entry of its personnel into the country. In his conclusions, he called on both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take steps to deal with the situation.

At the UNHRC, the Institute for NGO Research denied the results of the report, which was accused of being based “almost entirely on unsubstantiated claims by the Palestinian Authority” and NGOs supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

“It adopts an extremist Palestinian narrative that politicizes water to advance the PA’s anti-peace agenda,” a representative from the institute told the UNHRC.

The report “falsely blames Israel for construction delays, while completely downplaying the PA’s boycott of the 2010-2017 JWC, rejected desalination and also deliberately set fire to necessary projects in East Jerusalem such as the Kidron Valley sewage treatment plant,” the said Representatives from the institute said.

LEFT Israeli groups have also recently focused on the issue of water. A broad coalition of NGOs held a march in the South Hebron Hills on Saturday to raise awareness and bring a cylinder of water to the Palestinians in the area.

The issue of water was raised during the discussion on Agenda Item 7, under which the UN Human Rights Council is mandated to hold a debate on alleged human rights violations by Israel during each of its three annual meetings. It is the only country against which such a mandate exists.

Israel has argued that Agenda Item 7 is one of the examples of the UNHRC’s bias. Both the US and Israel have unsuccessfully urged the Council to remove item 7 of the agenda.

Mauritania on Friday spoke out in support of the article, stating that its removal would only encourage Israeli “impunity”.

However, Israel has raised arguments against agenda item 7 with most western countries.

Of all European or Western countries, only Luxembourg spoke during the debate on item 7, in which only around 40 countries participated.

In the debate, Russia and China called for an immediate resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which had been frozen since 2014.

“We emphasize the importance of initiating a substantial Palestinian-Israeli peace process with the support of the quartet of international mediators, which remains the only internationally recognized mechanism to accompany the solution in the Middle East,” said the Russian Representative.

She stated that Russia, a member of the Quartet, “is ready to work closely with key regional actors in order to find compromise solutions”. The other three members are the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union.


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