This is the third blog of a series of blogs, which explore issues of water demand management in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, looking at water saving options in the domestic and agricultural sector. This entry about agricultural water demand management in the Palestinian territories was written by Josef Wenninger, FoEME intern at the Tel Aviv office.
Meeting the water needs of a growing population and growing economies in the Middle East is a huge challenge for a region struggling already with water scarcity and climate change. Palestinian agriculture, historically rain-fed, has been one of the most water-efficient and sustainable. However, competition with the Israeli and international market, occupation and population growth have led to a growth of irrigated agriculture at an industrial scale and with it more and more unsustainable practices in terms of water use and management.
Water resources in the region are already used to the limits of natural recharge capacities and exceeding these in several places, eg. the Gaza Strip. Due to Israeli occupation, Palestinians have no access to the Jordan River. The river water instead is dammed and diverted by Israel, Syria and Jordan leaving only 2% of the original volume downstream. Unsustainable use of water resources has led to dramatic effects for the environment. FoEME has therefore commissioned several studies with the aim of identifying policy options for redirecting fresh water resources to rehabilitating the river’s ecosystem. FoEME argues for a shift from the current policy focused on increasing water supply such as desalination to a more integrated approach of reducing water demand.
In keeping with FoEME‘s motto of sustainability, water demand management should help us in doing better with what we have as opposed to increasing water supply. This approach has not been widely promoted by the Palestinian authorities or the public at large, which has focused primarily on securing Palestinian water rights. But it is an essential component of water management in Palestine, especially in the agricultural sector, which consumes 60-70% of Palestinian fresh water.
Tools for agricultural water management in the Palestinian Territories are irrigation water pricing, removal of trade barriers and agricultural planning, as well as on-farm efficiency. According to the study, other country’s water policies should not be copied without considering existing local water management institutions. Palestinian agriculture struggles with poorly maintained infrastructure, water losses due to inefficient irrigation practices and poor on-farm water storage. Therefore, farmer-to-farmer exchange on the adequate use of irrigation technologies and treated waste-water needs to be strengthened to promote the best practices. Moreover, the Palestinian authorities need to increase budget for extension services and agricultural research.
Last but not least, environmental policies need to be implemented. Using treated greywater for irrigation will allow Palestinian farmers to reuse water and reduce the amount of freshwater needed in agriculture. However, the environmental impact of unconventional water resources for irrigation like treated waste water or flood water storage needs to be considered. Research has to be undertaken on existing environmental policies for the reallocation of freshwater and also the risks of ecotourism have to be evaluated.
If water management takes into account farmers’ needs, it bears great potential to improve their situation and the sustainability of available water resources. It can be beneficial both in the short term, since in most cases it does not require large investments but rather a change of behavior, and in the long term, because it builds on a knowledge-intensive agriculture and farmers’ adaptive capacity.
The study ‘Agricultural Water Demand Management in the Palestinian Territories’ was conducted by our former intern in the Bethlehem office, Anja Bursche and can be found on our website: http://foeme.org/www/?module=publications&project_id=68