Water wars?

Back in 2006 I took a day out from the Amnesty office to “job-swap” at the news desk of The Independent at their (then) office at Canary Wharf in east London.  All very interesting. For one thing: what a studious atmosphere! More like a library than a busy, shouty newsroom. Sky News was playing silently on muted monitors. Phones were answered quietly. By comparison the Amnesty office (itself fairly sedate) seemed more like the trading floor of the Stock Exchange – “Hello, Amnesty!!”  What stays with me was how late the front page came together. It was actually still undecided when I left for the day at 7pm. Oh, the drama. In the event the next-day front page – to which I’d contributed a modest 50 words! – proclaimed the advent of “Water wars”. Why? Well, there’d been a major conference discussing how climate change is making water an increasingly valuable global resource. The fear: future wars could be fought over access to rivers and lakes.  Wars? Is this plausible? Well, yes. To take just one example: the Israel/Palestine situation. As a big Amnesty report out today shows, there’s a striking disparity in water usage. Israel keeps all of the water from the River Jordan and uses 80% of the water extracted from the West Bank Mountain Aquifer (leaving Palestinians only 20%). In fact, 450,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank use as much or more water than the entire Palestinian West Bank population of 2.3 million. Meanwhile, over in Gaza, the water infrastructure – mains pipes, sewage networks, pumping stations – is so damaged and depleted through Israeli incursions and blockades that Gazans need water deliveries into the Gaza Strip. In fact just this morning the UN is saying that Gaza’s main water resource – the Coastal Aquifer – is “in danger of collapse”.  How is this not going to feed existing Palestinian resentments, making a tinder-box situation even more inflamed? How would you feel if you were a Palestinian in the West Bank denied enough water for even a basic standard of living while all the time you’re able to see nearby illegal Israeli settlements where water sprinklers were dousing lush green fields? In fact, as Kate Allen makes clear in a new Eagle Eye comment, isn’t there something deeply distasteful about the fact that some settlements actually boast swimming pools while many Palestinians are forced to navigate endless Israeli military checkpoints just to collect essential water for their families? Want to know more? Check out the full report or, even better, come to this talk at the east London Amnesty office tomorrow (Wed 28 Oct), where the Israel/Palestine author Ben White is outlining the water issue at a special event. (Hey, unlike water, it’s free!) Water, as they say, is life, and it’s hard to see how any kind of viable, dignified life can be guaranteed to the Palestinian people if they continue to be denied their rightful access to water.  Please take action here, where you can contact the head of the Israel Water Authority to demand a fairer distribution of water for Palestinians. 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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