All surface and ground water resources in Palestine are shared with Israel and/or other states. Surface water are scarce, and include the Jordan River and a number of wadis (stream beds or ravines where water only flows seasonally and temporarily, often as flashfloods after thunderstorms). The Jordan River is the only watercourse that can be used as a year-round source of surface water for the West Bank. It is currently controlled and used exclusively by Israel. Groundwater is the major source of freshwater supply for Palestinians. There are four groundwater aquifer basins in Palestine, which are located either partially or totally in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Each of these basins can be divided into sub-aquifer basins.
Surface Water Resources
The Jordan River is shared between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. However, since its occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel has prevented Palestinians from accessing this water source. The river originates on the slopes of Mount Hermon in Lebanon and flows southwards through Lake Tiberias for a total of 223 km until it spills into the Dead Sea at approximately 425 metres below sea level. The Jordan River surface catchment area is about 18,300 km2 (Map 1).
The historical flow of the Jordan River was around 1,400 MCM/yr. However, the river’s natural flow has been drastically altered following the construction of a series of dams and diversion projects along the river and its tributaries in Israel, Jordan and Syria. Israel diverts around 400 MCM/yr from Lake Tiberias. Most of this water is transported through the National Water Carrier for use along Israel’s densely populated Coastal Plain and in the Negev. Syria has also built a series of dams on the main tributary of the Jordan River. As a result, the flow of the Lower Jordan River has dropped dramatically to between 20 and 200 MCM/yr and the water quality has sharply deteriorated. Israel enjoys the biggest share of the Jordan River’s water, leaving next to nothing for the Palestinians.
Ground water Resources
As Palestinians in the West Bank do not have access to the Jordan River, the main water resource left to them is the Mountain Aquifer. This groundwater resource lies under both Palestine and Israel. It is 130 km long and some 35 km wide, fed mainly by rainwater falling over the mountains of the West Bank (Map 2).
With a total average yield of 679-734 MCM/yr, the Mountain Aquifer is divided into three parts: the Western Aquifer Basin, North-Eastern Basin and Eastern Aquifer Basin. It is a very important resource for both Israelis and Palestinians. It contributes about 25% of Israel’s total water budget. Israel extracts about 80% of the Mountain Aquifer’s potential yield, and restricts Palestinians to only about 20% of its estimated potential. Furthermore, Israel reportedly withdraws water from the Mountain Aquifer up to 50% beyond its sustainable yield, to provide water for its citizens and for illegal settlers in the West Bank.
Palestine’s share of the Mountain Aquifer’s resources has declined over the last 10 to 15 years because of Israeli over-extraction, reduced natural recharge and restrictions on well drilling. In 1999, for example, overall Palestinian water extraction from the Mountain Aquifer was 138 MCM, dropping to 113 MCM in 2007 and 87 MCM in 2011, which is less than the 118 MCM/yr that was allocated to Palestinians in the 1996 Oslo agreement (Fig. 1).
Gaza’s only source of fresh water is the Coastal Aquifer, a groundwater basin that runs the length of the Gaza Strip and along part of the Israeli coast (Map 2).
Its average recharge is estimated at up to 450MCM/yr in Israel and 55-60MCM/yr in Gaza. However, current extraction rates in Gaza reach up to 200MCM/yr, nearly four times as much as the aquifer can sustainably recharge each year to meet the growing demand of Gaza’s population.
The over-exploitation of the Coastal Aquifer and the absence of adequate sewage treatment facilities in the Gaza Strip have resulted in the deterioration of water quality in Gaza, as described in the next section. It is estimated that 90-95% of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption due to pollution.
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