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Water shortages plague West Bank

Sunna Abbas with her sick son, Mohammad, Faqua village, West Bank
Sunna Abbas says the doctor blames the water for Mohammad's illness

By Katya Adler
BBC News, Jerusalem

Mohammed Abbas is sick, with chronic diarrhoea. Not for the first time.

He and his family live in a Palestinian village with no running water, no sewage system, and no prospect of getting either any time soon.

Watching her son, eyes closed, clutching his stomach on a mattress on the floor, his mother, Sunna, told me she is desperate.

Water tanker, Faqua village, West Bank
Faqua residents complain they have to spend a lot of money buying water

"I'm angry that my son is sick. The doctor says it's because of the water. We buy it from outside. I don't know where it comes from. I give it to my children even though I know it's contaminated. What else can I do?"

Sunna's story is becoming increasingly common in the West Bank. The name of her village, Faqua, means spring water bubbles in Arabic, but access to water here disappeared long ago.

The village council says most of the underground springs were appropriated by Israel in 1948 when the state was founded.

An Israeli-Palestinian Water Committee was set up in the mid-1990s as part of the Oslo peace accords.

But Palestinians say Israel makes it virtually impossible for them to dig new wells or to join Israel's water grid.

Leftovers

The West Bank is home to an important regional water source.

According to a World Bank report published this year, Israel keeps 80% of water it drills from the mountain aquifer for Israeli citizens.

West Bank map showing Faqua village

Palestinians get the leftovers. It is not enough.

While driving around Faqua village we came across a private water tanker, its hose rolled through the street into the Sallah family's backyard.

Murky-looking water gushed into an underground tank there.

The World Bank warns the water quality is deteriorating. So Palestinians pay dearly.

Unclean water makes people sick. Lack of water means prices are high. Munir Sallah says it makes a difficult life even tougher.

"We need a lot of money to cover this expense. We could use the money for other things like food for example.

"Every bit of money we have we use to pay for water. You're not going to eat well. You're not going to use much electricity. You need to save this money for water.

"In Faqua money is in short supply. The village fields lie barren, dry and dusty. Traditionally, Palestinian villages depend on farming. For that you need water."

Trading blame

But Israel says it is not to blame here - Palestinian planning is.

Israel claims Faqua village never applied to join the water grid - although the local mayor disputes this.

Israel says the Palestinian Water Authority should be more effective across the West Bank.

Human Rights groups tell a different story. Sarit Michaeli works for B'tselem:

"Israel provides water on demand to any Israeli, including settlers in the West Bank.

"Palestinians are entitled to water. It's their basic right under international law, but very often they are discriminated against in the allocation of this resource.

"Water is scarce throughout the entire region but the little water we have has to be equally shared out between Israelis and Palestinians."

Farmer Ahmad Abu Salamah, Faqua
Ahmad Abu Salamah can see green Israeli fields from his own parched land

Up in the brown hills of Faqua, a frustrated Palestinian farmer shows us the lush fields of an Israeli Kibbutz next door.

Faqua village is just on the boundary line between the West Bank and Israel.

An Israeli army jeeps keeps a close eye on us from the other side of the metal fence - part of the separation barrier Israel is building in an around the West Bank.

Ahmad Abu Salamah says Israel has given the kiss of death to agriculture here.

"We in Faqua village live in Area C - the part of the West Bank under total Israeli control. Israel should give us water. If it did, our land would be as green as theirs. But they use all the water for their land

"Water along with land and religion lies at the heart of the conflict here. Fair distribution will have to be part of any solution."



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