By: Firas Taweel
Forced installation of water prepaid meters in Marda village without consulting the residents
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
A year and a half ago, the town of Marda, north of Salfit, began to require citizens to install prepaid water meters, following suite of dozens of villages and towns in the West Bank. Since that time, the debate in the town has not stopped about these meters and their usefulness in a country where the Israeli occupation controls 85% of its water resources. The village council confirms that 90% of Marda’s residents adhered to installing prepaid meters, as a result of a compulsory procedure that was gradually implemented. On the other hand, about fifty families in the town still reject the new meters and insist on their right to choose, after problems arose with prepayment, as they said.
The debate about prepayment for water is not new and is not confined to the town of Marda. Since the Palestinian cabinet decision in 2010, the issue was widely discussed among the local community, human rights organizations, and legal centers. The decision, issued on 7 June 2010, stipulated that prepaid meters should be installed within conditions and technical specifications and a governmental subsidy of up to 50% of the cost of providing and installing these meters, and that their installation is optional and not compulsory.
Another decision issued by the cabinet in 2018 encouraged service providers to install prepaid meters in exchange for the government bearing 100% of the cost of providing and installing these meters. This decision came after previous decisions that stipulated 50% of the cost to be borne by the government, so this amount will be deducted from the debts of the local authorities.
Access to Water is a Basic Human Right
In a study conducted by researcher Muez Karajeh for the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), he stated that prepaid meters are an expression of an economic pattern and not just administrative policies. This pattern is the neoliberal one based on decreasing the responsibility of the governmental sector to the level possible, in exchange of burdening the citizen with the biggest share possible of the livelihoods. He pointed out that this is done without regard to the Palestinian context, i.e. the existence of the Israeli occupation, and thus requires an economic pattern based on the necessity to provide all the elements of steadfastness.
Instead of restricting the right to water in order to rationalize water consumption by citizens, but rather following pre-payment policies for basic services (such as installing pre-paid water meters), the researcher calls on the Palestinian Authority to develop general/public policies aimed at increasing the amount of water (the Palestinian’s share of water) it receives from Israel.
The lawyer Dawood Darawi, who specializes in constitutional affairs and human rights, affirmed that access to water is a basic human right, which has been stipulated in many international conventions, especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as part of the right to an adequate standard of living linked to the right to health and food.
Based on this right, Darawi demands that “the state guarantees the right to water for every individual, so that it guarantees drinking water in an adequate quantity, which is not contaminated, in an accessible and affordable manner, and at an affordable cost. The state should not restrict this right, nor is allowed to pose restrictions on access, or to turn the cost into a burden and an obstacle to the right to water. If the state does any of the aforementioned, it would be violating human rights”.
Darawi stressed that forcing prepaid meters is unconstitutional, indicating that “there is a basic constitutional rule, which stipulates the right of the Palestinian citizen to live in dignity. According to the code of civil and commercial proceedings, any citizen who has been denied basic services, i.e. water or electricity, has the right to resort to interim relief judge in order to regain the services immediately. Furthermore, the government has begun implementing these procedures at a time when it blocked access to justice, not just water, by raising court fees drastically”.
The head of the Consumer Protection Association in Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate, Mr. Salah Haniyeh, agrees with all of the above, and warns of health implications resulting from the policy of installing prepaid water meters. He adds that “the studies conducted in villages west of Jenin, in which meters have been installed, showed that citizens have adopted measures of rationing water consumption. Cases of lack of hygiene began to appear, and some diseases appeared as a result of water scarcity and exaggerated rationing”.
Haniyeh said using the excuse of “uncommitted citizens and accumulated debts” is more convincing, because the reason for the accumulation of debts is municipal councils that do not commit to paying their dues, despite the citizens paying their bills. He added, "When the head of the local council finds cash at hand due to the payment of water bills, he prefers to implement small projects in his municipality, such as small streets and roads, in order to gain the confidence of the local community at the expense of the money paid by the citizen as prices for water. The issue is mainly caused by mismanagement”.
A Stark Irony: Prepayment in a Country whose Water Resources are Controlled by the Occupation
In 2105, MA'AN Development Center, in partnership with the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, produced a documentary film that discussed the decision by the PA of installing prepaid water meters. The film demonstrates the stark irony in the government's imposition on the people to pay in advance the price of water originally stolen and fully controlled by the occupation, while the government has no dominion over this resource.
The film asks: How do we explain that Britain, which holds the patent for water privatization, backtracked on implementing prepaid meters schemes after dysentery spread in some poor neighborhoods after installing prepaid meters?
To watch the documentary, please click on the following link:
Translated by: Carol Khoury