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Report: 75,000 Bedouin in Negev have limited or no running water

Health Ministry does not supervise water quality in the Bedouin villges yet they pay higher water rates, report claims.

by Zafrir Rinat        6 July 2014       Haaretz

The unrecognized villages of Atteer and Um al-Hiran

The unrecognized Bedouin villages of Atir and Umm al-Hiran still have demolition orders hanging over them.
Photo by Albert Denkberg

Tens of thousands of Bedouin living in rural Negev communities that the government does not recognize as legal have no running water. Many others have restricted access to water and pay much more for it than other communities, a recent report finds.

The report, published by the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, also finds that the state has rejected almost all the Bedouin requests to connect their villages to the national water system. Also, the Health Ministry fails to supervise the quality of the water, the report notes.

In the past, the unrecognized villages’ residents used to transport water to their homes from tankers. Following a prolonged legal battle, it was established that the state is obliged to supply water to the villages. However, this was not always implemented.

Some 300 connection points were installed to provide water for about 75,000 people, but the supply is far from sufficient or accessible to all the Bedouin households. Even in communities that are connected to running water, the supply is inadequate. Families who live on the outskirts of villages must still rely on water tankers, the report says.

Unlike in other areas, the Health Ministry does not supervise the water quality in the Bedouin villages. Despite all this, the Bedouin pay a 30 percent higher water rate than other consumers, and in the last three years the price they pay has doubled, the report claims. Regardless of the price, they do not receive all the services they pay for, such as a sewage system, it adds.

The report also notes that the Bedouin cannot pay according to the basic water quota based on the number of people per household, because their houses have no legal status. Consequently, every community pays for all the water it consumes, which comes to a much higher price.

In recent years, 90 percent of the numerous requests the Bedouin submitted to the Water Authority to supply them with water in the unrecognized communities have been denied. The report states that the Water Authority conditions its permission for water supply on settling the land-ownership claims, which many Bedouin families have.

The report says the courts have approved this approach, thus enabling the state to deny the Bedouin community water as a way of pressuring them to renounce their claims, leave their villages and move to places the state has prepared for them.

The Health Ministry responded that the Bedouin community has “unregulated home water systems, but the supplied water is supervised, by sampling the water in the main connections. The Bedouin obtain water from these connections by installing illegal pipes or carrying it in containers.”

The Water Authority said it invests considerable resources and effort to ensure the Bedouin have accessibility to water, and invested 44 million shekels ($12.9 million) this year connecting the communities to the sewage system.

The authority said that paying a reduced water rate is conditional on the consumer having a recognized, legal home address. In the absence of such an address, the Bedouin cannot receive water for the reduced rate.