Think of this, a tiny country in the Middle East, with 60% of its landmass categorized as a desert, with only a few months of rainfall each year and many bouts with drought, has somehow become the world’s leading expert in life-saving water conservation and management. How did this happen? How did such a tiny country achieve this? Seth Siegel takes a deeper look in his book, Let There Be Water. Seth is an American entrepreneur and activist and became deeply concerned about the global water issue when he came across some research predicting a dire future without access to clean drinking water for millions upon millions around the globe. According to two reports recently published by the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), current water usage will lead to water scarcity affecting 30-40 percent of the world by 2020, and a global shortage by 2040.
What was causing this? What would this mean for food production around the world? How many would starve and literally die of thirst? The consequences of this were horrifying to think about and the reasons ranging from population explosion, droughts and climate change to gross mismanagement of natural resources. Siegel wanted to know what could be done and if there were any answers? If so, who had them? Would they share their knowledge?
He was surprised to learn that Israel, the tiny country mentioned above, had the answers and was not only willing to share, but ALREADY WAS with anyone who wanted it; even with countries that have no economic or peace agreements with Israel! A prime example of this is that Israel provides 55% of the water to the West Bank for the Palestinians that live there and provides a considerable amount to Gaza as well! Unbelievable to many, who have a harsh view of the State of Israel. But the truth remains that this country holds the answers to the world’s water scarcity problem and can and will assist wherever it is welcome.
Scanning the rest of the globe, we see an example in Peru with almost 35% of its population without clean water for drinking or sanitation, which translates to 12 million people! This nightmare is repeated in many countries like India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Cypress to varying degrees.
So what was Israel’s secret in being able to not only provide for their own citizens but to also provide for people that live across borders? It is not just one strategy or process but solving the problem with as many solutions as they could find. Any idea that had merit was added to the table for implementation and it has all added up to a Water Policy with many points of attack that effectively reduce the possibility of reaching a “crisis” point as Cape Town, South Africa has.
Education, conservation, new technologies, a supportive government and never-ending research and development have all resulted in Israel having a surplus of water in just a few short years. Incredible! Focusing on the technological answers Israel has produced for their water needs, we see three main practices that produce the most water for the nation. The first is the recycling of wastewater for use in agriculture. Israel has the highest percentage of wastewater recycling at 85%, far ahead of any other nation by a large margin. Running wastewater through plants that clean and sanitize the water, is then redirected to nearby agricultural fields. Agriculture is one of the biggest uses of a nations water resources which brings us to number two on the list. In the 1950’s a Polish Israeli engineer developed the world’s first drip irrigation and it revolutionized agriculture for the new, very dry, State of Israel. Reducing the strain on the water resources for agriculture was a relief for the fledgling state, but over the years as the population grew and cities seemed to be appear overnight, an additional solution was needed.
Israeli ingenuity developed the technology and machinery needed to make desalination a more affordable reality. Israel now has 5 large plants along its coast that provide approximately two-thirds of the water that Israel’s citizens need. Of course, there has been questions raised about the impact this could have on the environment and the sea life. Dumping the salt back into the sea that was taken out through the filtration process could have some hazardous consequences. Israel has responded with launching research into ways to improve the process and mitigate any negative impact. It is refreshing to see a country that tackles a problem in its infancy and does its best to get ahead of it.
Turning our attention to Africa, we have to step back a bit in time to 1958 when Golda Meir, then Israel’s foreign minister, created a department called the Center for International Cooperation, or Mashav as it was known in Hebrew. The mission of this initiactive was to help developing countries—particularly in Africa—overcome problems of water, irrigation, agriculture, education, and social equality. In its early years, the Mashav initiative was warmly embraced by African states as well as countries in Asia and South America. When she became Israel’s prime minister in 1969, Meir saw to it that the African program continued to get the support it needed. But then came the 1973 Yom Kippur war, in the aftermath of which, at the urging of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, every sub-Saharan nation broke diplomatic relations with Israel and expelled the Mashav teams.
Yehuda Avner writes in The Prime Ministers—that as devastating as it was for Golda Meir, “it was a much greater misfortune for the many Africans who had benefited from the now abruptly terminated programs.” Africa has slowly been warming up to help from Israel again, but it is not at the level it needs to be to make a truly significant difference in a permanent way for the entire continent and of course, for South Africa, which is in dire straits now and needs immediate changes to stave off a national disaster.