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Land of milk and honey under watering ban
2-month ban on watering
Alan Philps The Daily Telegraph JERUSALEM - Israel is urging people to stop watering their lawns and is launching a crash program of desalination as it grapples with its worst water crisis.
"The managerial failures of the past and endless disagreements among the authorities involved have led us to a dangerous situation,'' Shimon Tal, the water commissioner, said yesterday.
The crisis comes after three years of drought and years more of inertia and mismanagement.
Continued consumption at current levels is likely to cause irreparable harm to the quality of drinking water from two aquifers and the Sea of Galilee, the main source of fresh water, which is already dangerously depleted.
Mr. Tal has proposed a two-month ban on watering lawns at home and in public parks. But even this modest cutback -- only 1.5% of annual consumption --has provoked outrage and is likely to be rejected by a committee of the Israeli parliament.
The Union of Local Authorities, whose parks are in danger of going brown for the first time, is campaigning against the ban, saying farmers should be forced to stop irrigating their crops first.
The situation is desperate all around the region. The Palestinians, whose water resources are largely controlled by Israel, are preparing for a thirsty summer.
There is water rationing in Amman, capital of Jordan. Even Damascus, whose lush orchards inspired Islamic visions of paradise, has had water supplies cut for 20 hours a day because the Fijeh spring has dried up.
Israel will have to live "hand to mouth'' for the next three years until planned sea-water desalination plants begin operating, Mr. Tal said.
The country is also planning to import fresh water from Turkey, provided it can agree on a price.
In the past, Israel has kept its parks green and grown thirsty crops like cotton by limiting supplies to the 2.3 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Mr. Tal refused to discuss the division of water resources, but Palestinian figures show Israeli consumption per head is three times that of the Palestinians.
The water dispute will add further bitterness to the already simmering conflict, with many Palestinians having to get drinking water from tankers while Israelis cool off in swimming pools.
"They cannot make peace with thirsty people,'' said Fadel Kaawash, deputy director of the Palestinian Water Authority.
Water was one of the issues due to be settled in final status talks, which were delayed for years and finally broke down with the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in September last year.
Despite the semi-arid climate in Israel, the government has never imposed a ban on watering, arguing Israelis would never abide by one.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 27, 2001