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The Manitoba Water Stewardship department and KKL-JNF Canada, were host to the first ever Manitoba-Israel Water Experts Symposium in Winnipeg, with about two dozen Israeli and Manitoba scientists. The 11-man Israeli delegation of water experts led by KKL-JNF World Chairman, Efi Stenzler and Israel Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, reached a cooperation agreement with the Canadian province of Manitoba. The Government of Canada will transfer 1.5 million shekels towards the water crisis in Israel.
Canada, the land of lakes and waterfalls, will help drought-stricken Israel to conserve water. There are 100,000 lakes in Manitoba. Three of Canada's 14 largest lakes are in Manitoba - Lake Winnipeg, Lake Winnipegosis, and Lake Manitoba. Nevertheless, although Manitoba is one of the most water-rich places in the world, there are many threats to this resource - pollution, nutrients, consumption, foreign species, floods, draughts, and climate change.
Manitoba Minister of Water Stewardship Christine Melnick said that the Government of Manitoba is known for its friendship with Israel. In 2006, KKL-JNF and the province's Ministry of Agriculture signed a memorandum of understanding to combine and develop water conservation initiatives and since then Manitoba and KKL-JNF initiated a research fund for water conservation, rapid-growth greenhouses, and forest diversification. In addition Manitoba will be sending the province's experts to teach Israel about conservation. In return, Israeli experts would teach their Manitoban counterparts how to purify polluted water.
The scientists' areas of expertise included everything from engineering, to geology, hydrology, oceanography, agriculture, physiology, eco-hydrology, global climate change, water quality technology, and conservation. "This symposium is about science, scientists, and water practitioners - about ensuring that we are using sound science in important decisions regarding our most precious natural resource - water, which recognizes no political boundaries," said Melnick
At the final day of the symposium leading scientists from Israel shared their knowledge and learned about proven ways to successfully steward scarce water resources and to use various techniques to conserve water in urban and rural environments. The experts examined issues of shared concern to Manitoba and Israel, such as wetlands reclamation, algal blooms, wastewater management, and nutrient removal.
Israeli Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Shalom Simhon said "Israel is a strong country. The threats to Israel are also great, with the Palestinians, Hezbollah, Iran, and Lebanon. We must be a home for the Jewish people and provide security to our children. Nevertheless, the heart of the dispute between Israel and its neighbors is about water. Canada's friendship with Israel is one of the best things that has happened in the last few years."
Dr. Avi Gafni, hydrologist, research coordinator KKL-JNF Israel said: "In the back of Canadians' minds, they're always thinking about a "rainy day" when water may become scarce. Global warming makes the situation dire. Any exchange of knowledge is beneficial to both Israel and Manitoba. We're conducting research to contribute to science, understand different processes, solve problems, and build ties. Israel is facing a severe water crisis and we must conserve existing water resources while pursuing water research innovation."
Melnick made three announcements at the forum opening. After announcing last fall the establishment of a $250,000 Scholarship to bring Manitoban students to Israel to study water engineering and water purification, Melnick, now announced the first recipient of the scholarship - Bryan Oborne. Oborne, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development and a University of Manitoba Environment and Geography PhD student, won the scholarship for a two-year period, totaling $50,000. The scholarship fund is to be administered in partnership with the KKL-JNF.
"These important new scholarships will support scholarly development in a range of areas including nano-technology, water conservation and water re-use. Today's students are tomorrow's leading voices on water protection and these scholarships will give our young people unique international experience as they complete their studies," Melnick said.
Melnick also announced $100,000 in funding for cooperative water management initiatives research, specifically for ideas brainstormed at the symposium. Dwight Williamson, Assistant Deputy Minister of Water Stewardship and KKL-JNF Israel's Dr. Avi Gafni will form a committee to select the best proposals that benefit both Manitoba and Israel, and present them to Melnick within 90 days.
The last of Melnick's announcements was that this symposium is the first ever provincial carbon-neutral event, with the Manitoba government pledging to plant 15 000 new trees to offset the carbon effect of the guests' flights.
Dr. Sharon Markowitz-Hart, JNF Canada national president, said, "Water is a basic human need, and is symbolic of life. Unfortunately, there are various issues and aspects of water that are becoming worldwide problems and the environmental impact will have global repercussions. Israel and Manitoba share common water challenges and have a shared commitment to take action to improve the health of our lakes and rivers. This first-ever water symposium and the new scholarship program will build on our mutual commitment to make effective use of the best available strategies to protect our water, and ensure a secure future for our children. Partnership was one of the founding principles of the KKL-JNF in 1901. Our research and cooperative initiatives with the people of Manitoba will not only create solutions to critical environmental challenges, but will also ensure a secure future for our children."
In light of the success of the conference, KKL-JNF plans to reciprocate by sponsoring an international conference in Israel on water issues next summer. KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said: "On our 60th year Israel is still partly a desert country. On our flight into Manitoba, we saw Lake Winnipeg that is bigger than all of Israel!" He invited Melnick and a Manitoba delegation of scientists to come to Israel next year for the second Manitoba-KKL-JNF Water Experts Symposium, to which Melnick accepted. Stenzler added a new plan to set up an international youth movement to champion water conservation around the globe.
Condensed from articles by Rebeca Kuropatwa, Canada, Ehud Zion Waldoks, The Jerusalem Post
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