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Visit to Dkaika, an unincorporated Bedouin village in the West Bank

Visit to Dkaika, an unincorporated Bedouin village in the West Bank

Dkaika, a Bedouin village in the Judean desert, south of Hebron. Photo © Åsa Elfström, EWN

11 August 2014

*By Susan Lea Smith

During the meeting of the International Reference Group (IRG) of the  Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) in Jerusalem in early June, 2014, a  delegation consisting of EWN Coordinator Dinesh Suna and three EWN-IRG members (Carolin Callenius from Bread for the World, Asa Elfstrom from Church of Sweden, and Susan Lea Smith from United Church of Christ, USA) visited the community of Dkaika (“ji-ka”) in the West Bank of Palestine.  We had the privilege of this visit through the extraordinary efforts of Jovita Sandaite, EWASH Advocacy Task Force officer for the West Bank, and Hadeel Tahboub, a social worker with the Gruppo di Voluntariato Civile-Italy (GVC-I), stationed in Hebron, who arranged the visit on very short notice.

We met with Khalil Sleman Al Kalabna, the community representative in Dkaika for the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) projects being implemented by GVC-I. We also met with youth and a women’s representative of the village.

Dkaika is an informal Bedouin settlement located in the Judean Desert, south of Hebron and just six kilometres from the Dead Sea. It has been a continuous settlement for decades, since cisterns were built that allowed the Bedouins to stay in one place rather than search for seasonal sources of water.  Mr Al Kalabna indicated that his grandfather found the water that allowed the Bedouins to settle 100 years ago.   According to him, the Bedouins’ use of the area dates at least 600 years, before the Ottoman Empire, and indeed they used the land before the Israelites came to Israel. Are the shepherds mentioned in the Bible, who came to see the baby Jesus, were from the Bedouins communities? We don’t know !

This is a dry, dusty, rocky and desolate land, receiving about 200 mm of rain per year (eight inches). There is little or no soil, yet still enough grass grows so that the families can graze sheep and goats on the grass 4-5 months a year and buy fodder for their goats and sheep only  for the remaining period of the year.

Dkaika consists of 40 families with a total of about 300 people.  Families typically have 10-12 children, and half of the population is under 18 years of age. Families appear to send their girls away as they grow older: while the percentage of males and females among children under five is roughly even, there are three boys for every girl between the ages of 5 and 17.

ECHO recently built a water line, bringing water from the filling point in An Najada, roughly six kilometres away, to the mosque, which is half a kilometre from the village.

Before the new filling point was constructed, families in Dkaika obtained water in a variety of ways.  Some came from a 3.75 cubic metre tanker, which the village filled once a week.  Some came from women walking the six kilometres to An Najada every day and hauling water back in jerry cans loaded on donkeys.  Some came from families hauling water from rainwater harvesting cisterns closer to the village, within about two kilometres.  Women spent between two and six hours a day hauling water.   The provision of a new filling point in the village has reduced the time required to fetch water to perhaps an hour a day.

About half the water was used for drinking and other domestic purposes, with the remainder used for animals.  The average family had perhaps a little more than 3.75 cubic metres of clean water available per month for domestic purposes (since some harvested rainwater was also used).  With an average family size of eight persons, this means that the average family in Dkaika had less than 16 liters per person per day (lpd)  for domestic purposes, compared to the WHO standard of 100 lpd. Now the contaminated water from rainwater harvesting is only used for the animals.

Before the new filling point, children suffered from stomachaches and diarrhea, which the women now understand came from using contaminated water.  Since the new filling point, the health of the children has improved.  Before, the village had three children under six months of age die suddenly without any explanation in a single year.  That suggested the infant mortality rate was about 300 children per thousand, resulting in a mortality rate in children under five in excess of 75 children per thousand.  Contaminated water is just one of many reasons for sudden infant deaths, so the high infant and child mortality rates cannot necessarily be attributed to dirty water.  However, over time, the community will know whether sudden deaths of infants will decline.

After discussions with the women of Dkaika about their educational needs, the GVC-I provided the women with training in first aid and hygiene.  Now the women understand the diseases that are caused by contaminated water and improper hygiene as well as how to treat water by boiling or through sunlight exposure.

The families had to pay for water obtained at the An Najada fill point, purchasing the water from Merkot, the private Israeli water company. Merkot charged 80 NIS (23.50 US dollars) to fill the tanker with 3.750 cubic metres of water and charged families filling jerry cans a similar amount.  This amounts to about 20 US dollars per 100 cubic feet, which is roughly eight times the amount I pay for water (about US$2.50/100 cubic feet).  The average family spent 155 NIS per month, consuming virtually their entire income on water. The water provided at the fill point is paid for by the Palestinian Water Authority, at no cost to the families of Dkaika.

According to the American Water Works Association standard, no more than 2% of income should be spent on water. By comparison, the average family in Salem, Oregon,  pays about $40 a month and has an income of $4000, paying 1% of their income on water. The Israelis defend these stiff charges for water as a means to encourage water conservation.  In the case of Dkaika families, the Merkot rates encouraged a little too much conservation.

After 1948, the Israeli government appropriated three-quarters of the Bedouins’ land. Dkaika has been fighting for its existence with the Israeli government for a decade. It has been demolished, rebuilt and faced yet again with demolition orders (see A Mosaic of Peace, blog of a vounteer in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel of the World Council of Churches on her visit to Dkaika). When the Israeli authorities demolished 150 homes in Jericho, some of the families who had moved away returned to Dkaika because there is water now.

Children attend school in Dkaika through the sixth grade. Two years ago, the Israeli authorities demolished the school in Dkaika, but it has been rebuilt with the help of Islamic Aid. Children must travel daily several kilometres each way to attend secondary school, and the community has requested that a secondary school be built in Dkaika.

* Susan Lea Smith is representing the United Church of Christ, USA, on the International Reference Group of the Ecumenical Water Network.

Equitable distribution of water is a key issue in West Bank and Gaza (WCC release of 18 June 2014)

Exposure to the water situation in Gaza (report by IRG members on their visit)

Jerusalem Statement of EWN on Water Crisis in Palestine