Water for food in Palestine

20 July 2009 | News story

Without water, there would be no food. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Marj Sanour in Palestine, which has been forced to look elsewhere for food as water shortages mean crops cannot be easily cultivated locally.

What’s the problem?

Palestine is now on the “Watch List” of countries identified by the World Food Programme due to the impact high food prices are having on the country.

The price rises mean that Palestinian households are now spending up to 60 percent of their monthly incomes on food, a massive rise from the 36 percent rate recorded by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2004.

Many households are coping by reducing the quality, quantity and diversity of food consumed. Their ability to absorb economic shocks by growing their own food has been seriously compromised by land confiscation, movement restrictions and lack of access to water.

The REWARD Programme is working in Marj Sanour, a closed watershed in Jenin Governorate. The project is being implemented by the IUCN REWARD Project office in Palestine with the Palestine Hydrology Group and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

How is food security threatened?

Formerly, a high percentage of food was grown and bought in villages in Marj Sanour, but local production systems have deteriorated due to limited access to water.

As a result, up to 76 percent of food is now sourced from outside the villages, making them highly dependent on external markets, and thus, highly susceptible to food price rises. At the same time, the high increase in water prices has strongly limited the amount that families can spend on other basic necessities, such as food.

Water shortages have led to a reliance on adjacent springs and wells and cisterns, many of which are contaminated, and water tankers. Already high, the price of tankered water is affected by changes in the price of fuel.

These water shortages mean families can’t cultivate vegetables and fruits to support their subsistence needs. If the local population was able to do this, they would not only be able to ensure a stable and diverse diet for their families, but they would also be able to free up income now devoted to expenditure on food and channel it towards other means.

What’s the solution?

One of the main targets of the REWARD Programme is to improve the productivity of agricultural land by making sure more surface run-off water is captured.

Virtually all of the households surveyed had access to sufficient amounts of land for small-scale agriculture, but they were unable to cultivate it properly because of hilly landscapes, flooding, and the high cost of water.

According to several previous studies conducted in the West Bank, floodwater has a reliable potential here as a water resource. Water harvesting would decrease water runoff and increase soil retention, improving the productivity of cultivated crops.