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Israel must allow Palestinians access to adequate water supplies

Amnesty International has on World Water Day urged the Israeli authorities to end discriminatory practices against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that violate their right to adequate water supplies.Many of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and featured in the October 2009 Amnesty International report Troubled Waters – Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water – face continuing serious Israeli obstacles to accessing water."Almost six months after our report, the Israeli government still maintains control over water resources in Occupied Palestinian Territories. Palestinians are allowed only a fraction of the almost unlimited supplies provided to illegal Israeli settlements," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East Programme.   "In many of the cases we highlighted, there has been no tangible improvement on the ground for ordinary people." Troubled Waters highlighted, among other cases, the plight of the small village of Tuwani in the southern Hebron hills.  The village, like other Palestinian communities in the area, remains unconnected to the piped water network that amply supplies the nearby illegal Israeli settlements.  Palestinians in the village instead have to rely on cisterns to harvest rainwater and store the water they purchase from tankers. In December 2009, the Israeli army issued a demolition order for a water cistern that the villagers had built. Then, at the beginning of March 2010, when the residents of Tuwani again applied for a connection to the water network that runs near the village, the Israeli military authorities in control of the area refused.  Residents of the village of Beit Ula also continue to struggle to access sufficient water supplies after the Israeli army destroyed nine rainwater harvesting cisterns in 2008.The cisterns were built in June 2006 as part of an EU-funded agricultural project to improve food security, and each had belonged to a family.  While local Palestinian farmers had salvaged what they could after the destruction, a year later most of the farmers who would have benefitted from the project are still unemployed or surviving on odd jobs as manual workers.They told Amnesty International on 15 March that they would be ready to restart the project as soon as they are assured that it will not be demolished again.In the West Bank village of Daraj al-Hathaleen, Amnesty International's report also described how the Israeli army delivered demolition orders for nine water cisterns built without permission from the Israeli authorities. Israel imposes a complex system of permits which the Palestinians must obtain from the Israeli army and other authorities in order to carry out water-related projects in the OPT – anything from digging a well, treating sewage or simply repairing a damaged pipe. Applications for such permits are often rejected or subject to long delays.While the demolitions in Daraj al-Hathaleen have not yet been carried out, villagers told Amnesty International in March 2010 that local shepherds have been forbidden from using the cisterns and remain dependent on expensive water from mobile tankers. Since the road leading to the area was closed by the Israeli army in 2009, water tankers have not been allowed to pass, forcing the residents of Daraj al-Hathaleen to travel long distances to collect water from the tankers.More than 40 years of Israeli military occupation restrictions imposed by Israel on the Palestinians' access to water have also prevented the development of water infrastructure and facilities in the West Bank Amnesty Internation's report also highlighted the problems faced by Palestinians in Gaza, where 90-95 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption. The water and sanitation situation in Gaza continues to be "perilous", according to a report issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 17 March. The Israeli military blockade of Gaza has prevented the entry of materials that are necessary to maintain the water and sanitation infrastructure."Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been denied the right to live a normal life, to have adequate food, housing, or health, and to economic development," said Malcolm Smart."Israel must take responsibility for ensuring that Palestinians receive a fair share of the shared water resources."