Bedouin in unrecognized villages struggle for water

Open sewage on the outskirts of an unrecognized village. (Shabtai Gold/IRIN)

BEERSHEEBA, 3 April (IRIN) - Over half of the 85,000 Bedouin in the Negev desert live in some 40 villages not recognized by Israel, leaving them without access to many basic services, most importantly water. According to experts, about 45,000 Bedouin transport water to their homes using tankers or on animals.

Hundreds of people in Tel Arad village, for example, are completely reliant on tankers and animals to get water, making life more expensive for people who can hardly afford to buy meat on a regular basis.

“I am not connected to the water system, because they [the state] don’t want [it],” said Odeh, an elderly resident, who remembers being displaced as a child.

As in other places, people keep their water in tanks on their roofs. These can rust inside and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) has expressed concern that this has unhealthy side effects, and can cause diarrhea.

In August, about 80 percent of all Negev children hospitalized for diarrhea are Bedouin, though they make up only 25 percent of the area’s population. Unclean water, and not enough liquid in general (as they receive too little water) are blamed for the problem, according to PHR-I.

Central water points

Another 40,000 people, to whom the Israeli authorities only provide collective central water points (pumping stations at specific points on main pipelines), use illegal hookups to get water to their homes. The connections can be erratic, and the pumping stations can be turned off if bills are not paid.

“Sometimes we have no water, if one person in the village didn’t pay their bill,” explained Walid, a resident of Awajan, an unrecognized village. The collective nature of the central water points means one person’s negligence or poverty can affect many other families.

However, the problems extend beyond paying debts. Some illegal water connections run for six kilometers from the central point, meaning that water pressure can be problematic, while the makeshift pipes are a breeding ground for bacteria, a local doctor told IRIN.

“In the summer many times there is no water. The pipe is too small and too many people are hooked up to the connection,” explained Sliman, another resident. Both he and Walid end up buying expensive bottled water in the summer for their families.

According to PHR-I, the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages (RCVU) and the Water Coalition (all non-governmental organizations), of the 210 applications for central water points between 2003 and 2006, in accordance with a high court ruling, only 30 requests were authorized.

New townships criticized

Israel’s official position as evidenced from recent high court hearings is that the unrecognized villages are illegal as they were founded in violation of planning laws, though it has recognized a few in recent years. Israel would prefer residents of the unrecognized villages to move to the seven townships it has set up over the years for Bedouin, saying they can receive all services there.

Beyond the reluctance of many Bedouin to leave their homes, they also complain about what services are truly offered in the townships, as some 20,000 people there are not connected to a sewage system, according to the Water Coalition, the RCUV and based on the number of residents in townships that do not have systems.

“They have been promising us a sewage system since the 1990s,” said Shahada, a resident of Laqiya township. He blamed local leaders for agreeing to let the state establish the township without a sewage system. Mansour, another resident, said he had to pay about US$140 every week to have his pit cleaned out. “We have 100 people connected to one pit and the ground can’t absorb that. It smells all the time,” he told IRIN.

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Related Links