www.banksy.co.uk - adaptation by shadow

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Water of life!

Unless you’ve been composting your head in recent years, you will probably be aware of some of the manifestations of climate change and man’s general mismanagement of resources. Both of these, combined with over-population, have compounded the problem of water. 2 million people die of water-borne disease a year and 2.5 billion people have no access to sanitation facilities. These problems are quite clearly manifested in the West Bank and amplified due to the Israeli occupation. The Israeli authorities control the water supply, so whilst Israeli citizens are guaranteed a water supply, 10% - 20% of Palestinians are not connected up to any water infrastructure. Those that are have to make do with a fluctuating supply where the access decreases steadily as the summer progresses even though they pay 3 times the rate the settlers pay for their water.

Due to the check-points, the price of tanker-borne water has quintupled. As a result of this, many of the poorer and more rural populations take water from the badly polluted springs – contaminated by sewage and illegal Israeli factories not hampered by Israeli emission laws due to their location in the west bank.
One of the biggest issues we are trying to address with Bustan Qaraaqa is that of water security. This is valid not only for the West Bank but everywhere as global precipitation patterns change in distribution, intensity or just stop altogether. The site we have is actually a powerful tool as we are located in the lee of the ridge line occupied by Bethlehem and Jerusalem. So we get little rainfall here even compared with sites less than 10 miles away: Beit Sahour is nicknamed ‘little Jericho’ as testament to its dryness and heat. Although it’s not an ideal site for farming, it is an ideal site for establishing techniques for ‘worst-case scenario’ conditions.
As the planet warms and the Hadley cells elongate (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9229-global-warming-stretches-subtropical-boundaries.html), these kind of conditions will become far more widespread and people will be forced to migrate or find coping mechanisms. We are ideally placed to pre-empt this and to try and find workable solutions.
The practical actions we can take are re-foresting the area, increasing the water-holding capacity of the soil, selecting drought tolerant plants and rainwater harvesting - the latter of which we have been working furiously towards.
At the head of the land, down in the olive grove, we selected a site to build a water storage cistern. Generally only the richer Palestinians can afford to build them. We were looking for cheaper means than the concrete pouring that is generally employed these days as not only is this an ecologically unsound method, the costs are pretty prohibitive. We had 2 alternatives to produce a genuinely water-tight structure: traditional stone-building (dry stone walling in the middle-east) with a lime-skim or a concrete-skimmed breezeblock structure. We opted for the latter due to time constraints.
In the summer, work started aiming to be finished in time for the rains. There was much whip-cracking as unfortunate volunteers were worked mercilessly digging a hole to place the cistern. Thankfully a neighbour took pity and bought along a tractor to finish things off saving the staff and volunteers from a sweaty death. Left with a pit, Alice was promptly thrown into it by a malevolent olive tree during the olive harvest and was rushed to an exciting interaction with Bethlehem’s doctors.

After Christmas, we had had enough guests to be able to afford to start. Work started on the actual construction with the floor, which was poured concrete. (video) After some hilarious shouting contradictory instructions to the lone unfortunate wading around in concrete laying the floor, we had a water-proof floor. Construction halted here while we waited for the revenue from the guesthouse to amass enough again to buy materials for the walls. The rains started in earnest, the rains slowed down and finally we had enough cash. The bricklaying began. Successive waves of volunteers helped immensely; working, performing as orators, feeding us or singing; so thanks to you all! Children from the surrounding houses came to offer their expert advice and practical skills. Eventually we got to skimming the interior and, despite some dissolved body parts, to our joint relief finished that. Now we have waterproofed it and need only to fill it and put a fence around it.
So, yes. Annoyingly we missed the rains. It is still worth us filling it from the mains. Although this isn’t the rainwater-capture we had hoped for, we have a lot of trees that need irrigating and the mains are getting less and less generous. We also plan to keep Tilapia in the cistern as a source of dietary protein for ourselves and a nitrogen source for the trees. Additionally, we didn’t use the most sustainable and cheapest method. However, as they say ‘time is money’ and as there are only 3 full-time staff here we couldn’t afford to spend all our time scouring for rocks and carrying them around. However, the breezeblocks that we used massively decreased the quantity of concrete used. So we saved 12,000 shekels from the 20,000 shekel estimate for a fully concrete structure and the accompanying ecological impact.

So the trials and the tribulations of the cistern are pretty much over. When we have filled it, we will have a ‘Pool party’ complete with bbq, cocktails & floating. We’re planning on using this event as an awareness raiser as there is a possibility of a grant on the horizon to build water-storage in refugee camps. For this we’ll need workers. It’s been a long-time coming this cistern so personally I’ll be glad to have the nightmare over. I found the sheer frustration of not being able to work on such a vital part of the project for so long due to financial constraints pretty trying. At least we had the option of building this without a demolition order being slapped immediately on it though so there are blessings. We’ll keep you updated as to the timing of the pool party and if you’re in a part of the world where you can reach us: you’re invited. At the moment, the date is pencilled in for the afternoon of the 6th of june. We will keep you posted as to a definite date via the blog, Bethlehem Bethlehem, Ramallah Ramallah and the website www.bustanqaraaqa.org

Thanks again to all those who put so much literal blood and sweat into creating the cistern!

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