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Aliyah, Hannah (reporting), Nurit, Irit S., Ana (translating) with Nadim


Acute water shortage in Iskaka. Running water is now only available every 2 days for 8 hours. To ensure an equal distribution, the council official closes one of the three valves supplying the village neighbourhoods, and then opens another one, and so on. The amount “Mekorot” supplies is insufficient, even less than in May, when they had 56 litres per person per day (Lpcd). Now it is down to 36.66 litres. The WHO minimum is 100 litres; in Israel it is 183 litres. (These numbers are from a B’tselem chart reproduced in an email dated 28.07.16 by Knesset Member Tamar Zandberg).


Nurit and Irit joined us today, as they were interested in visiting our villages and area.


We telephoned X. the council official, asking for a meeting. This morning he was busy with matters outside the office, and so wouldn’t be in to receive us, but invited us to come on another day. 

ISKAKA. 1200 people. Area B.

Communication was rather difficult for several reasons: first, because the official we met spoke only Arabic, so we talked with Nadim’s help; worse than that, the A/C unit in the room was very noisy. Finally, our time at the council included waiting for quite a while at first (while the official was closing and opening valves); moreover, our conversation was interrupted several times when our host was attending to his phone calls. We asked for a phone number and are keeping it confidential.

Our last visit was on 28.02.16, though we were updated on 22.05 during our visit to Yasuf. Already in May they were experiencing a serious water shortage, and as good neighbours the two villages were sharing the total amount of water allotted by “Mekorot” to them, as well as its distribution. They divided the amount each village received according to the number of their residents. Similarly, they divided the number of hours per day during which each village received running water (Iskaka, 8 hours, from 9 am to 5pm; Yasuf, 16 hours, from 5 pm to 9 am). In May, Iskaka received 2,000 cubic meters (cm) per month for its 1200 residents, that is, 56 Lpcd. And Yasuf, 4000 cm water for its 2000 residents, that is 67 Lpcd. 

ACUTE WATER SHORTAGE. The situation is now much worse in several ways. First, they only receive running water every two days. Secondly, they receive it only for 8 hours. Thirdly, the amount is now down to 88 cm water for those 8 hours. To ensure equal distribution for all residents, the council official goes around every few hours, closing a water valve in one neighbourhood, and then opening it in another. In fact, we had to wait, because he was busy doing just that. He showed us one of the 3 valves, near the council house.

The significance of these numbers becomes clearer thanks to B’tselem chart, quoted by Knesset member Tamar Zandberg, in an email dated 28.07.16. It provides a norm: according to a WHO study, the minimum amount needed per person per day is 100 litres of water (100 Lpcd). On 22.05.16, Iskaka was receiving 2,000 cubic meters of water per month for its 1200 people. That is,1667 litres per person per month = 56 liters per capita per day (56 Lpcd). And now in this hot and very humid July, “Mekorot” supplies them only 36.66 Lpcd.

An undated WHO study (“Minimum water quantity needed for domestic uses”) calculates how much water @ day we need to keep alive and healthy; how much to satisfy social, aesthetic, and hygienic, habits and religious conventions. It first points out that priorities for water requirements vary according to gender, culture, religion and climate.  And then, according to the amount of water available, this study usefully posits 2 initial consumer levels: a short term survival level, sustainable only for a few days; and a medium term at maintenance level, sustainable for a few months.  It then offers a “hierarchy of water requirements” listing needs according to standard priorities, shared by most people; to each need corresponds the amount of water it requires.

At survival level only 2 physiological and hygienic needs can be satisfied: drinking (10L) and cooking (20L). At maintenance level, another 2 needs are added: personal washing (30L) and washing clothes (40L). Together, the amounts in these two levels make up the minimum 100 Lpcd. The minimal amounts in these two levels do not allow the use of water for other domestic needs, such as cleaning the home (50L), growing food for domestic use (60L), and waste disposal (sanitation via flush-toilet 70L). Nor can a community’s basic needs be realized: such as school (2 litres per student)—(10-15 litres per student if use is made of water-flushed toilets); Health Centre (5 litres per Out-Patient) and Mosque (5 litres per visitor).

Thanks to this study, we can now understand better to what Mekorot’s stingy and unacceptable supply of 37 Lpcd has reduced Iskaka’s residents in July 2016. Iskaka is now well below the medium term maintenance stage and slightly above the short term survival stage.

Not only is the amount of water “Mekorot” supplies Iskaka very insufficient, there is also not enough pressure, so many houses up the hill don’t receive any water at all, not even this reduced amount of water. Complementary sources are: (1) a private cistern in the courtyard, where existent. In the past, before villages were connected to the Israeli water network, every family dug a cistern in their house to collect rainwater. Now residents in many villages no longer have them: digging a cistern is both difficult and expensive, as we were told in another village. Some families now use their dried-up cisterns as cesspits. The official feels that, in the future, permission to build a new house, given by a council committee, should include the obligation to dig a cistern. And, he adds, this would be similar to the law in Israel, obliging every new building to have  a “ma’amad” in every apartment (a room serving as shelter from missiles, etc).

A third source of water is that sold by mobile water trucks; this is both unreliable healthwise and very expensive—- 350 NIS per 10 cm, vs. 6 NIS for the same amount of running water. It is difficult to imagine how families with many children can cope on their low incomes.

In fact, a recent study (J. Int'l L. & Pol. 165, 2011-2012) reveals that “the average West Bank household spends eight percent of its income on water…in some communities, they spend over 45% of their income on water.”

The water shortage is actually visible from a distance: the huge collective water storage is not full. It is tall and located above the village. It has 3 rings 50 cm in diameter, each one above the next with spaces in between. The middle one moves with the height of the water; when it touches the top ring, that indicates the storage is full. In all the storages we have seen, the middle ring has been in the middle. That is, the storage was only half full. 

SEWAGE. The village is not connected to a sewerage system; so instead, each household has a cesspit. Apparently, many are old and inadequate: when they fill up, the waste flows into the street. This happens often. For houses near the farmlands, this “doesn’t matter”. But for houses right in the middle of the village it does: their neighbours complain of the stench and they are then obliged to order a pumping vehicle to come and drain the overflowing cesspits. Some need this service once a week; others once a month. It costs150 NIS.

DEBRIS from Ariel. Settlers from Ariel throw debris from their construction projects, such as old doors, onto Iskaka farmlands as if they were garbage dumps. Already in our last visit on 28.02.16, we were told that workers from Ariel brought such debris and dumped it on both sides of an inner village road.

SUMMER CAMPS (“saifa”). Following Aliyah’s question, we hear that there are summer festivals for youth (“muazzan”) in Jericho and Ramallah. But the residents in this small village cannot afford to either run such festivals or send their children to those towns. But they do have organized summer camps for their children.

Which is their worst problem? asks Hannah. “Water and sewage” is the answer.