Palestine is situated in a region whichdoes not have a favorable water supply environment and is strongly affected by the scarcity of this resource. The problems are nevertheless different in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip:
In the West Bank, the problem relates to quantity. The only resources accessible to the Palestinians come from springs or deep groundwater, which is costly to extract by drilling. Moreover, drilling is subject to Israeli authorization. Due to this, it is estimated that around 60% of the water supply to the West Bank is provided by the Israeli public company Mekorot, which sells the water in bulk to the Palestinian Authority (PA);
In Gaza, the problem is essentially related to quality. The Gaza Strip is situated above a shallow groundwater layer (the coastal aquifer), which is easily accessible, but whose quality is very low because of over-extraction for several years (leading to high salinity). It is estimated that only 5% of underground water resources can still be rendered drinkable without advanced water treatment techniques.
In terms of resource management, the problems are also different. Whereas the Gaza Strip has complete autonomy regarding management of its resources, resource management in the West Bank is constrained by the necessity for the Palestinians to negotiate for their access to resources within the framework of the Joint Water Committee (JWC). See Map
Drinking water: supply of drinking water to the Palestinian population is, to a large extent, ensured by collective distribution networks. When this is not the case, household water supply depends on the collection of rain water during the rainy season (from December to April), and the purchase of water from water tankers in the dry season (from May to November).
Sanitation: in the West Bank, the only large waste water treatment plant managed by the Palestinians and operating satisfactorily in 2012 was that in Al-Bireh, near Ramallah (40,000 population equivalent - PE). After lengthy delays owing to the appropriate authorizations not being obtained and the lack of a clear national strategy, several major projects are now under study or being built: Hebron - 100,000 PE; East Nablus - 90,000 PE; Tubas/Tayaseer - 60,000 PE; Ramallah/Al Tireh - 25,000 PE; Jericho - 70,000 PE; West Nablus - 90,000 PE.
Moreover, the sanitation sector is one of the priorities of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) in terms of infrastructure.
As regards sewage collection, only 10 towns representing just over 30% of the households in the West Bank are connected to a sewer. Wastewater is not treated or only marginally treated, and its discharge into the environment leads to contamination of ground water. Reutilization of sanitized water has not yet been developed, but is strongly favored by the Palestinian Authority.
In the Gaza Strip, the sanitation system is generally more developed than in the West Bank and the connection rate to the network is about 70%. On the other hand, the three large existing sewage treatment plants, to the south (Rafah city), in the centre (Gaza City), and to the north (BeitLahia), are undersized and in poor condition.
Raw or partially treated waters are discharged directly into the sea or stagnate in lagoons. They risk contaminating the coastal groundwater layer, which is very near the surface, and is the only accessible water resource in this region. These treatment plants are, however, each the subject of large extension and rehabilitation projects to bring them up to standard (Rafah - 85,000 PE; Gaza City - 500,000 PE; BeitLahia - 250,000 PE). The construction of another plant to serve the town of Khan Younis (220,000 PE) is also under study.
Whatever their location, scale or management method (municipal, joint or regional), Palestinian water and sanitation services often face the same difficulties collecting payment of invoices. In 2011, the PWA indicated that the average collection rate of a sample of 11 operators of varying sizes was 75%. The revenues collected, both infrequent and low, do not provide the operator with sufficient resources. The inability to collect payment for invoices does not seem to be linked to a culture of non-payment of services or to households’ inability to pay, but rather to inefficient management by the communities: inadequate follow-up, inflexibility in relation to payment methods, absence of coercive measures in the event of non-payment.
The low invoice payment collection rate leads, in turn, to two major problems. On the one hand, local operators find themselves unable to honor their debts with the Palestinian bulk water supplier (the West Bank Water Department – WBWD), which in turn finds itself in a state of chronic debt. This debt has repercussions on Palestinian national finances via the so-called ‘net lending’ mechanism, which the Palestinian Authority is attempting to combat.
This term refers to the outstanding payments of the Palestinian operators to the Israeli operators supplying them with electricity, water and sanitation services. When Palestinian operators do not pay their invoices, the Israeli companies do not cut off their supply, but the unpaid amounts are deducted by the Israeli Ministry of Finance from the amount it pays back to its Palestinian counterpart for the customs duties and taxes it levies on their account (Paris Accords). The mechanism is maintained by the municipalities because they allocate the revenues generated from water sales to their operational expenditure. The problem of ‘net lending’ is particularly important in the electricity sector and also in the sanitation field, because the Israeli authorities invoice not only for the treatment of Palestinian waste water which flows into Israeli territory but also for the construction of the infrastructure used for this treatment.
On the other hand, the irregularity of operators’ revenues has a definite impact on the quality of service to the population. As priority is given to the payment of salaries, operators often find themselves unable to meet recurrent expenditure relating to the basic upkeep and maintenance of their infrastructure. The quality of service is therefore negatively impacted, compromising at the same time the credibility of the supplier in the eyes of the user.
The problems to be solved in order to satisfy the water needs of the whole Palestinian population are linked to the following factors, which are the major avenues of PWA policy:
The unequal sharing of the resource has led to the development of a policy of active negotiation with Israel to benefit from more resources (through the JWC). The discussions, closely linked to the overall political context are, however, often at a standstill;
The mediocre quality of the infrastructure calls for large investments to rehabilitate and develop these facilities in the areas of production (drilling), transport and distribution of drinking water (pumping stations, piped water networks and reservoirs), as well as sanitation systems (collection and treatment);
The inadequate quality of services whose improvement involves rationalizing the size of operators, strengthening their technical capacity and the installation of prepayment water meters;
The ill-defined and very unstable institutional environment has been the subject of much discussion, resulting in the implementation of sectoral reforms.
At the national level, PWA is the most important stakeholder in the sector and plays many roles through the different entities for which it is responsible. PWA functions as the ministry and the regulator of the water sectors, the WBWD (West Bank Water Department) is the national operator responsible for the production and distribution of bulk, the projects management unit (PMU) of the West Bank and Gaza manage the implementation of projects and can be in certain cases the main contractor.
Even if liaisons with other institutional stakeholders are generally ensured by the Palestinian partner, it is important to be aware that the following ministries are liable to be involved in the projects, depending on their nature. the Ministry of Local Government (MoLG), under whose authority are placed the village councils, the municipalities and the joint councils, the Ministry of Environmental Affairs (MEnA) in charge of regulating projects which have an impact on the environment. In this role, this ministry can intervene in sanitation projects, the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), which is involved mainly in irrigation projects and in problems related to the reuse of treated waste water and the Ministry of Finance (MoF) in the case of projects co-financed with the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian water sector is in the course of being reformed. The initiator of this reform is the PWA, whose various responsibilities are being shared out in distinct entities with clearly defined roles.
This reform has sparked discussions at a national level, owing to the fact that different ministries are involved in the management of water and sanitation services. Because of this, not all the proposals were validated at the time this guide was written. It is nevertheless important to be aware of the main direction of this reform because it can have an impact on project definition and implementation. The program content must be in keeping with the national policies and strategies proposed by the reform in the various sub-sectors (management of water resources, distribution of drinking water, sanitation, etc.). It is important to note that all the bilateral and multilateral backers support the reform process initiated by the PWA through undertakings made within the framework of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in July 2012.
Population: in June 2012, the Palestinian population living in Palestine was estimated to be 4.3 million inhabitants: 2.65 million in the West Bank and 1.65 million in the Gaza Strip. Almost half of this population lives in the 27 refugee camps (19 in the West Bank and 8 in the Gaza Strip) officially listed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on 1 January 2012.
It should be noted that the majority of the Palestinian population is urban; although there are more than 130 municipalities and nearly 250 villages, half of Palestinians live in one of the territory’s main cities (East Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, Tulkarem, Ramallah (and Al-Bireh), Bethlehem, Jenin, Jericho and Qalqilya in the West Bank and Gaza City, Khan Younis, Jabalya, Rafah and BeitLahia in the Gaza Strip).
Administrative divisions and governance: there are three governance levels: central, regional and municipal. At the central level, the Ministry of Local Government is present in each governorate capital via a devolved administration. In terms of regional governance, Palestine is divided into 16 governorates: 11in the West Bank and 5in the Gaza Strip. Although comparable to French departments, the prerogatives of these entities do not have a clear legal framework. On the ground, the governor (equivalent of a French prefect) is appointed by the President of the PA and is responsible for the Palestinian police force within their administrative district. He is also responsible for the coordination of devolved state services (health, education, transport, etc.), but has no finances at his disposal.
The refugee camps are excluded from the field of competence of the MoLG, governorates and municipalities. They are dependent on the UNWRA, which is an aid and humanitarian development agency providing services in the fields of education, health, social services and emergency aid to refugees. UNWRA, as part of its remit, improves the infrastructure of refugee camps (drinking water and sanitation, reconstruction) and collects household waste. However the reduction in UNRWA’s financial resources and the increase in population of the refugee camps now require it to target the areas of health and education. See Map
Production and distribution of water: in relation to production and distribution, the WBWD has the role of national operator (in the West Bank) for bulk supply of water to local operators who are responsible for distribution. While still acting under the guidance of the PWA, the WBWD should nevertheless move towards becoming an autonomous national agency within the framework of the reform of the sector. It should also have transferred to it responsibility for all production and distribution infrastructure in the West Bank, since some of these installations are still managed by local operators. It should also be noted that the WBWD is the sole Palestinian representative dealing with the Israeli public company Mekorot, from which it buys water in bulk to compensate for the limited resources at its disposal in the West Bank.
In the Gaza Strip, the regional Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) supplies about half of the total quantity of water consumed. The other half of production is managed directly by the local operators via municipal and private drilling.
Local operators: three regional operators having the status of a public company, under the guidance of the PWA. The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) was formed in 2000 to manage the water and sanitation services in the West Bank. However, several Gaza municipalities have decided not to join this organization and have retained the technical and/or financial management of these services at a municipal level (this is notably the case of Gaza City). The Jerusalem Water Undertaking (JWU), which has operated in East Jerusalem since 1960, has seen its geographical remit extended to the centre of the West Bank. The Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WSSA) was formed in Bethlehem at the beginning of the 1970s and covers nearly 100,000 inhabitants in the municipalities of Bethlehem, BeitJala and BeitSahour. Joint council operators, in single sectors (the Joint Water and Sanitation Service Councils – JWSSC) or multiple sectors (the Joint Services Councils – JSC), bring together several municipalities and take the place of regional companies. Water and sanitation can also be carried out by municipal operators such as in Hebron, Nablus, etc. It is important to note that unlike regional operators, municipal and joint council operators are under the supervision of the Ministry of Local Government.
The special case of refugee camps: In the refugee camps there is some uncertainty as to who are the relevant authorities regarding the supply of water and sanitation services. In the West Bank, the configurations and the balance of power between refugee camps and municipalities vary, and there is a wide variety of situations as a result. In the Gaza Strip, where the refugee camps are very densely populated and often spill over onto municipal territories, this type of service is generally supplied by the local authorities, after discussion with UNRWA and the popular committees in charge of the security and administration of these neighborhoods.
The Water Union of Service Providers: A national association of water suppliers, the Water Union of Service Providers (WUSP), has been in existence since 2007 with the aim of promoting exchanges between suppliers and other professionals in the sector. Supported by the German aid agency, GiZ, this platform is an interesting source of information on current practices in the provision of these services.
Water and sanitation are main fields for the International funders. The main backers in this sector are USAID (US development agency), the World Bank, the European Union, the AFD (French development agency), the KfW and the GiZ (German aid agencies), JICA (Japanese aid agency), SIDA (Swedish aid agency) and Norway. The UN agency UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) is also very active in this sector. We can also find Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that operate in those fields and French decentralized cooperation partners. Several French local authorities (cities, departments, regions, water authorities, etc.) are involved in decentralized cooperation initiatives in the Palestinian water sector. Some have been active for more than10 years, and they are now an integral part of the landscape of the sector. In 2014, 16 French local authorities of all types were directly involved in partnerships in this field. Moreover, the 6 French water authorities support the local territorial authorities technically and financially.
The acuteness of the water problem and the large number of projects in the sector has led to the emergence of many local organizations. Engineering consultancies carry out studies and fulfill main contractor assignments. Local NGOs carry out applied research and intervene to set up pilot projects and in certain cases can be a substitute for engineering consultancies. Palestinian universities have teaching and applied research departments in the water sector (e.g. the University of Birzeit).