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Archive for Monday, March 5, 2007

Taps turned off critical water projects

Aid sanctions create problems for Palestinians dependent on U.S.

March 5, 2007

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— One slip, and Issa Abu Shakr's 5-year-old nephew plunged into the fetid stream of sewage that flows outside the family's West Bank home.

The contact with the filthy water required multiple blood transfusions and a 10-day hospital stay, Abu Shakr says.

A few miles away, Maisoun Seidat picked up a blue bucket for one of her three daily trips to a communal cistern. People shouldn't have to fret about something as elemental as water, Seidat says, but in the parched West Bank, it's a constant worry.

These are the human face of the toll exacted by U.S. sanctions following the rise to power of the militant Islamic Hamas group.

U.S. projects were to have dried up the toxic flow that threatens the Abu Shakrs and bring more water to the Seidats. But the money has disappeared into the morass of Mideast politics.

Projects meant to make sweeping changes in the Palestinians' quality of life - like the sewage treatment plant that was to have been built near Issa Abu Shakr's home - have been put on hold.

Meanwhile, the Abu Shakr family complains of asthma, burning throats and colds. The trunks of olive trees near their home are blackened by the squalid flow.

"The fact that they stopped the project is a disaster," Abu Shakr says.

Palestinians had hoped a power-sharing deal between Hamas and the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, would revive the aid, and a $250 million package of waste and wastewater programs the U.S. had planned for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated in a recent visit to the region that this won't happen unless Hamas moderates its refusal to recognize Israel's existence.

Other major donors have continued their smaller-scale infrastructure projects. But it is the U.S. the Palestinians depend on for water and sewage treatment, says Naim El-Mani, senior technical adviser at the Palestinian Water Authority.

Of the West Bank's 2.4 million people, about 120,000 living in small communities do not have piped water, and those who do receive it only once every 10 days on average, says Ihab Barghouti, economic adviser to the Palestinian Water Authority.

West Bankers rely heavily on purchased water - sometimes from untreated springs and wells - and rainwater collected in cisterns, Barghouti says.

Average daily water consumption, for drinking and bathing, is only 8 to 10 gallons a day, about one-third the World Health Organization's recommended minimum, and some people shower monthly, El-Mani said.

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