Training and Research Ideas for Water Management in the West Bank and Gaza
Director, Palestinian Engineers Association
Palestinian Hydrology Group
Groundwater is the major water resource in the West Bank and Gaza. Estimates of annual groundwater replenishment from rainfall vary. However, the estimate of 679 mcm/year was officially agreed on under the Oslo Interim Peace Agreement for the West Bank in 1994. Meanwhile, the total renewable groundwater resources in Gaza are 46 mcm/ year (MOPIC, 1996).
Total water use in the West Bank and Gaza is estimated at nearly 266 mcm/year. Agriculture uses almost 70% of this total and the remaining 30% is being used for domestic uses, which also include commercial and industrial use.
For the past three decades, water management in the West Bank and Gaza was constrained by several political, technical and economic factors. Such constraints have adversely affected the overall performance of the water sector and resulted in creating a large gap between the services provided and the demand. The lack of investments in improving infrastructures (physical water losses reach 50% in some areas), the scattered nature of the water supply and management utilities with the absence of adequate rules and regulations and the absence of stakeholder participation in managing the supply has resulted in the deterioration of the entire water system.
A new water law has been published in the official newspaper on 5/9/2002. The Law #3 sets the major rules for the management of water resources and supplies in the Palestinian Areas. Section 7, article 25 of the law states that Regional Water Utilities (RWU) will be established, based on the desire of the local utilities and water user associations, to provide water and wastewater services for Palestinian communities. A special by-law will be established for this purpose. In the meantime, Section 11, article 41 states that local village and municipal councils, government bodies and NGOs continue to provide water and wastewater services until the RWUs are established.
Accordingly, local, municipal and village councils continue to manage the water supply and basic sanitation services in Palestine. Most of these councils lack adequate infrastructure, technical skills, and human and financial resource capacity. They cannot attain cost recovery and therefore are operating under deficits all year around.
In the mean time only a minor percentage of the produced wastewater effluent is being collected in the West Bank and Gaza and partially treated. The existing on-site sewage disposal in rural areas (almost 96% of households in the West Bank villages use cesspits) does not accommodate the vast increase in wastewater generated by the population. Thus, untreated sewage contaminates groundwater, wadi beds, and agricultural fields and this causes critical community and environmental health risks.
Such wastewater quantities have a good potential to be collected, treated and reused. It is considered one of the important alternative water sources. Yet, for cultural reasons, the Palestinian community doesn’t accept this as a resource as of yet. Therefore, it is imperative to develop demonstration projects in order to prove the feasibility of such resources and demonstrate that the risks encountered with the use of treated wastewater are minimal when dealt with carefully.
Based on this argument, the issue of treated wastewater re-use is considered one of the key areas that need further development in the Palestinian Areas. Some technical capacity is needed and some new methodologies and approaches are also needed.
Despite the fact that there are some key institutions dealing with the subject, it still needs further development. The cooperation and coordination among them will further promote the issue and will lead to better results. Among the potential institutions are the Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG), the Agricultural Engineers Association and the Ministry of Agriculture.
There is a clear need for further research on appropriate technology for wastewater collection and treatment in the rural areas. Such technology will help reduce investment costs and will lead to the adoption of decentralized sanitation as a means to reduce pollution from untreated wastewater, while creating an alternative source that can be utilized.
Having said that, there is also a clear need to build the capacity of technicians and operators who might potentially be needed to operate and maintain such systems. Currently, there is no such capacity at the operational level. PHG has established a Training Institute in order to build the capacity of such technicians. PHG is willing to cooperate with the other institutions in order to define the training needs and to design the appropriate training programs.
Furthermore, Water User Associations (WUA) need to be established as a mean to improve local irrigation water management and to increase its efficiency. The WUAs will potentially reflect the end users opinions and their participation. The decision makers and the other stakeholders will assist in promoting the good water governance. It is important that we develop appropriate methodology to set up and organize the WUAs. It is also important to look into the different experiences that exist elsewhere in the world and benefit from their experience.