Nablus Mayor Resigns Over Water Supply

By Jenny David

Aug. 17— The mayor of Nablus, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, and the entire city council resigned after a shortage of water during a severe heat wave caused widespread protests in the city.

The demonstrators accused the municipality of “unequal distribution” of water to the city's neighborhoods. In particular, they claimed, water supply was cut off to the Balata and Askar refugee camps east of Nablus, forcing residents to buy more expensive water from private suppliers.

The protests also reflected broad opposition to a municipal decision to install prepaid water meters in private homes to prevent water theft.

Nader Khateeb, Palestinian director of Ecopeace Middle East, an NGO focusing on regional water cooperation, called it a “lose-lose situation.”

Nablus Mayor Ghassan Shaka'ah “did a lot to improve life in Nablus, including water, sanitation and other issues,” Khateeb told Bloomberg BNA August 17. A temporary committee has been appointed to run the city until new elections can take place, but meanwhile, “the people who don't pay their water bills won, which may encourage others not to pay, and that will make it even more difficult for the municipality to pay its water bill to Israel,” Khateeb said.

Shaka'ah said he and the city council members decided to resign to avoid “chaos” in Nablus because of the water crisis.

But the trend could spread to other Palestinian towns and cities.

“If the biggest and most powerful Palestinian municipality wasn't able to solve its water problem, no other city will touch it,” Khateeb said.

Water Policy Part of Political Conflict 

The protests coincided with a severe heat wave during which the amount of water supplied to the region by Mekorot, Israel's national water company, did not keep up with increased demand.

Although Mekorot declined comment, Water Authority Spokesman Uri Schor told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 16 that water pressure in the northern West Bank dropped “temporarily” on Aug. 12, at the peak of the heat wave. The shortages were felt in both Jewish and Arab communities, he said, and water supply was later increased to make up for the shortfall.

Schor also blamed much of the problem on “water theft” by Palestinian farmers who divert resources from the regional grid to irrigate their crops, so that less reaches the cities.

“I don't condone it, but I do understand it,” said Khateeb. “Palestinian farmers today get less water than ever, and Israel hasn't approved a single new well in the region. The shortage doesn't justify taking water, but people have to make a living.”

The Palestinian Authority is in an ongoing dispute over Israel's supply of water and electricity to the West Bank. Supply is insufficient and undependable, so residents refuse to pay for it, they say. Israel then deducts the unpaid debt from tax revenues its collects on behalf of the PA, further reducing its income and ability to supply basic services to the Palestinian population.

“In this situation, no elected official will try to advance a water policy,” Khaleed said, adding that “water and politics must be separated if we are to move forward.”

To contact the reporter on this story, Jenny David in Jerusalem: correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com