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Occupied Palestinian Territory

Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The Minister of Agriculture assisted by a Deputy Minister heads the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). It is made up of 13 Directorates covering all aspects of the agricultural sector, such as planning, marketing, soils and irrigation, land development, forests and rangeland, extension, veterinary/animal health, plant protection, fisheries etc. There are 17 Regional Departments of Agriculture, covering the whole of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which deal with the specific requirements in research/extension at regional level.

An extended system of adaptive research and farmer training/extension was developed during the British Mandate and also under Jordanian authority. After the Israeli occupation in 1967, research and extension services were placed under the supervision of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, and benefited from an influx of resources and new technology. In the 1980s, funding gradually decreased, and activities virtually collapsed. Although NGOs have attempted to fill the gap left by public services, their efforts have been scattered and have fallen short of the needs of most farmers.

Institutional development was one of the first priorities of the Palestinian National Authority. At present agricultural research is carried out through the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) in eleven research stations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, although they are operating at a low level.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) also provides formal agricultural extension services from 17 centres throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory. A total of 220 extension workers provide services free of charge to the farmers. In general the number of staff available is adequate for current needs; however adequate funding and staff mobility is a constraint on the optimum operation of these services, and there is an acute shortage of specialist officers for extension, research, development and planning. As a result of these inadequacies the MOA is not in a position to accept its responsibilities in full. In contrast some of the NGOs have acquired such experience and as a result there is at times some underlying tension between the MOA and NGOs.

The Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) was established by Law 2/1996 and is an institution with an independent status. It is responsible for the development and management of the Occupied Palestinian Territory water resources. It is also charged with implementing all the agreed elements regarding water (Article 40) from the Oslo Accords. In implementing its mandate it issues permits, licenses and concessions for any type of water utilization or wastewater use and has the responsibility of implementing all policies approved by the National Water Council. The PWA is under the direct authority of the President of the PNA.

The Palestinian Hydrology Group (PHG) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization established in 1987 with the aim of protecting and developing the water resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Its main activities are currently concentrated on the rehabilitation of springs and on promoting the use of cisterns (repair of old or construction of new ones) for collecting and storing rain water for use by families, schools, clinics and so on. The PHG is also involved in small-scale wastewater treatment and reuse for irrigating small home gardens. Another section of the PHG is involved in hydrological/geological studies and in water policy aspects.

Water management

The PWA prepared the National Water Plan of 2000 which is the strategic plan for the water sector until the year 2020. The plan describes the role of the service providers and shifts the functions of the PWA to regional utilities in terms of operations, maintenance, repairs, wastewater collection and treatment, bulk water supply, water reuse and allocation for industrial and agriculture use. The PWA will license and monitor drilling, abstraction and discharge (Husseini, 2004).

High water losses are observed for several reasons:

  • Most irrigation wells were drilled in the late 1950s or early 1960s, during which period the irrigation distribution systems were also established. Therefore, most of the irrigation water infrastructure is old and extremely inefficient. Distribution systems at springs are mostly earth or concrete canals with very low conveyance and distribution efficiency.
  • In most irrigation wells, water is pumped directly to the farmer without any storage facilities. Therefore, water is managed and scheduled according to supply availability and not according to irrigation demands. This results in a low efficiency of water use at farming level. The problem is more serious at springs where high discharge variability is a major problem in reducing the efficiency of spring water use. Storage structures would reduce the effects of variability in spring discharge and improve the efficiency of water use at the farm level.
  • Many practices such as the use of traditional irrigation methods are considered inefficient and result in losses of water at farming level. A lack of water measuring devices and irrigation scheduling tools at the farm level leads to reduced water use efficiency.
  • Many irrigation water sources such as wells and springs are shared or owned by groups of farmers with efficient institutional and organizational structures which could introduce or implement policies and strategies to improve the efficiency of water use. The dimensions of land tenure are also usually small for irrigated agriculture which can not absorb the water shares from irrigation wells or springs which are divided in terms of units of time. This problem arises more in greenhouses where the sizes are small and the water shares from wells cannot be utilized without an efficient organizational structure for distributing water among farmers and allowing them to irrigate several farms at the same time with a fair distribution method.

Policies and legislation

Water-related laws date back to the Ottoman Empire period, followed by the British, Jordanian/Egyptian, Israeli and now the Palestinian Authorities. Each ruling power has enacted new laws and created different water-related institutions.

During the British Mandate Period (1922-1948) the British regulated issues related to sewerage, drainage and water use within municipalities and enacted legislation to control the scarce water resources and ensure an adequate supply for domestic use.

During the Jordanian Period in the West Bank (1948-1967) the policies considered were to:

  • introduce water management related laws and concepts
  • require registration and licensing of use
  • limit quantities used for various uses (agriculture, domestic)
  • establish water allocation principles
  • empower municipalities to distribute water
  • set rules for pollution of springs, canals, pools cisterns and so on
  • create the West Bank Water Department to supply water to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and neighbouring towns and villages

Egypt did not extend its laws to Gaza (1948-1967) nor did it create new laws in the water area. The British Mandate laws continued to apply.

During the Israeli Period (1967-1994), Israel controlled the water resources as to use, management, quality, allocation and supply and distribution. Law No. 2 of 1967 declared all water resources to be State Property.

The Palestinian Authority (1994-present) faced a legal challenge in the water sector since administration and regulations were severely underdeveloped. In 1996, Law No. 2 set out the objectives, functions, duties and responsibilities of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA). In 1997, Presidential decree No. 66 established the regulations of the water sector and its rules and procedures. Law No.3 of 2002 encompasses all water sector issues. It aims to develop and manage the water resources, increase capacity, improve quality and preserve and protect against pollution and depletion. The major departures in this Law from Israeli legislation are that water is deemed a public property (owned by the people) not state property, the state manages water resources and private use is licensed as well as all other uses (Husseini, 2004).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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