“The situation was unhealthy, costly and hazardous at times”. Amer Kittani is a Palestinian farmer and an interior designer living with his extended family at An Nazlah al Gharbya village near Tulkarem in the West Bank. Amer started noticing underlying infrastructure when he settled back at his hometown, after working abroad right after graduating from university.
“It took me a couple of weeks to realize the infrastructure problems in my village, particularly in old buildings like my family’s house”. Amer loved his family home, but the poor infrastructure required them to manually empty the sewage cesspit at regular intervals. “The cesspit was very old and not well built. It constantly required us to empty it. The process did not only affect our health and well-being, but was also very exhausting financially”.
Amer is one of the villagers that benefited from the Transboundary Wastewater Management project, implemented by UNDP with support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The US$6.7 million project targeted six communities in Baqa Al-Sharqieh, Zeita and Nazlat municipalities, benefiting approximately 18,000 people. The communities targeted used cesspits and dumped wastewater into Wadi Abu Nar and surrounding areas, posing significant public health risks and constituting a threat to the shared water aquifer.
“We are a big family; I live with my wife and son, along with my mother and younger brother. The sewage cesspit was a big problem for us. It would often flood and smell bad. Apart from the inconvenience, it posed a tremendous health risk and a big threat for my son and the other children in the neighbourhood. The still water attracted insects, rodents and diseases, in addition to flooding during”, Amer explains. This challenge had forced the family to take adaptive measures, that ranged from raising cats around the house to repel any unwelcomed guests, to setting a standing appointment with a pumping truck every Thursday.
“This issue did not only affect our physical and mental well-being; the financial implications were also great. We faced a monthly fixed charge of US$200, more during winter. This was not only my case, but the case of most of the village residents”, Amer add. “I remember the excitement and relief when we heard about the installation of new collection networks in the village. People were happy that they will finally live in a healthier and cleaner sanitary environment, and of course scratch those monthly costs away”.
Amer sees the newly installed collection system as “an enhanced quality of life”. “The collection system provided a healthier space for our children to grow in, a cleaner space, and a garden to enjoy as we please. We now can host guests and feasts in confidence, knowing that we will not be disturbed by the smell, and Mohammed – my son - can wander around the garden and explore without the health risks that come with the cesspit”.
“We all are very happy with the new system, but I think my mother is the one that has benefited the most, as she lives on the ground floor”. The smell and constant flooding had forced Maysa, Amer’s mother, to change many of her daily habits. Now she can enjoy her morning coffee, take care of her flowers and plants and bake pastries in the garden.
“It does not matter how I feel; whether it is sadness, joy or anger, I turn to my garden for comfort. I look after my plants and observe my flowers, play with my grandson, meet with loved ones and sometimes even serve dinner outside. These small activities grant me patience and serenity. Installing the collection system allows for that enjoyment. Days pass by more peacefully now”, Maysa explains.
UNDP, in partnership with the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) was able to improve transboundary wastewater management and control. Wastewater collection networks and two pumping stations were established connecting the targeted communities, flow measurement systems were installed in five border areas, the capacities of the targeted municipalities were developed in wastewater management, and finally support was provided to the PWA in monitoring the quantities of transboundary wastewater.
Building on the progress achieved in enhancing wastewater pollution control in these areas, the Kingdom of the Netherlands provided an additional US$5 million to expand this project to reach Attil, Hebron and Beit Jala cities of the West Bank, benefiting around 8,200 by 2023.
Amer looks forward to the day were wastewater collection and treatment plants are available across the country, not only to enhance the quality of lives for Palestinians, but he also sees it as a developmental opportunity and a way to save the environment. “As a Palestinian farmer with regional experience, I think we should look at wastewater as a resource rather than a challenge. We should invest in water treatment plants, as they would provide an excellent source of water for the Palestinian agriculture sector”.