As summer nears, families living in the dusty Palestinian village of Marj Naaja located in the Jordan valley are set to face water shortages, a recurring problem in many parts of the West Bank.
Water is one of the many contentious issues hindering a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal. It is also an increasingly scarce resource in the Middle East which makes finding a resolution to the issue even more urgent – and complex.
Palestinian farmers in Marj Naaja, like Mahmoud Ali, say they have recently been suffering due to Israel’s control over water sources. He says they have had to use saline water for irrigation which is harmful to crops.
However, the farmers can now hope to face a good season thanks to a small desalination plant. The plant is the result of a two-year collaboration project between the Munir Sukhtian trading group and the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development and was built in the village.
“The main reason for this plant is that the 50-year-old water well under Road 90 contains salty water which we cannot use for agricultural purposes. We can only use the salt water for the palm trees,” said head of the village council, Kayed Masoud.
The fresh water generated from the plant will allow the farmers to expand their produce beyond palm tree dates, one of the only crops able to withstand being irrigated with saline water, to include more vegetables to sell at the local market.
Masoud says Israeli officials have barred the village from creating any new wells or cisterns to collect rainwater, saying their decision protects shared resources from exploitation.
Israel pumps water from an aquifier that bridges itself and the West Bank, then sells a certain amount to the Palestinians in accordance to an agreed quota under the 1993 Oslo Accords. Human rights group say the amount does not meet a growing Palestinian population.
Ahmed Fares, director of the Palestinian Authority Agriculture Directorate, hopes that the new desalination plant will expand its reach to accommodate more Palestinian families and farmers.
“This plant helps 50 farmers who work over 500 dunums (50 hectares) of land in Marj Naaja in the Jordan Valley. The degree of salinity in the well water means that the water is fresh. Saline water harms the soil and agriculture and decreases production. Now the plant is producing 60 cubic meters of fresh water per hour and we are looking to expand the cultivation area (served by the plant).”
Villagers say they still need to purchase their drinking water from nearby settlements, because the desalinated water is not fit for human consumption.