When one thinks of drought, a barren wasteland come to mind. Israel, which is at the forefront of water technology and is fortunate enough to have water bursting out of its faucets, seems removed from such a dire situation.
And, yet, the country is in the midst of a five-year drought.
“Four years of drought have overtaxed Israel’s unmatched array of desalination and wastewater treatment plants, choking its most fertile regions and catching the government offguard,” Reuters wrote last year.
A dearth of rainfall and low levels in the Sea of Galilee are just some of the problems the country faces.
Farmers are hit the hardest, though due to Israel’s strategic planning there is enough water to supply the needs of the country. For now.
“We built five large desalination plants which provides 600 million cubic meters of water in recent years. Therefore, even with this extreme and rare situation that we find ourselves in now – a five-year drought, that happens once in 50 years – we’re still able to meet the water needs for everyday use and also, to some extent, for our agriculture use,” Giora Shaham, the Israel Water Authority’s new director-general, explained.
However, Israel can’t afford to rest on its laurels and is looking ahead to its future water needs – especially as the population is set to double in 20-25 years.
Which is why Shaham approached Jewish National Fund for help.
Specifically, Shaham suggested that JNF help underwrite a huge $400 million project that will build 90 reservoirs that will produce 95 million cubic meters of water.
Those familiar with Jewish National Fund’s extensive work in this arena may ask why Israel needs so many new reservoirs when JNF already helped the country build 250 of them in the past 12 years.
The need for a project like this is quite simple, JNF Water Task Force chairman Mark Kelman explained.
“Here’s the reason and it makes perfect sense,” he began. “Farmers use most of their water in the summer, so while we are recycling all this water in the winter, there are not enough places to store it. Literally, a lot of recycled water goes to the sea. The more water being used, the more is being recycled, and we need more storage capacity for it.
Shaham added, “Jewish National Fund will take part in developing and enhancing Israel’s water supply, the farmers benefit and Israel will be able to support an agriculture industry that is more environmentally sustainable.
“We’ve committed to do two-three to start. The plans are already there to break ground, we will go to donors and start raising the money. Obviously, Jewish National Fund doesn’t have the capital to commit to 90 all at once, so we’ll start small while the fund-raising campaign begins,” he explained.
PROJECTS LIKE THESE, Kelman said, change the entire future of Israel; when we talk about sustainability, self-sufficiency, agriculture, or the ability to grow – whether it’s produce to eat, an economy to run a city, or a population to grow a country – Jewish National Fund’s stakeholders have their pulse on what’s vital to meet the future needs of this country.
“A country like Israel, by its geographical location alone, will always be short of water, and will need to have a viable plan for how it will have water for generations to come. If you don’t do this, you’re not going to survive as a country. And we hear continuously in the news about cities and nations across the globe that prove this true,” Kelman said.
Israel’s next door neighbors – Jordan and Gaza – are prime examples of that, and highlight the strategic importance of Israel not only looking after its own water needs but taking the needs of its neighbors into consideration for security reasons.
“We don’t live in a bubble. We have countries around us like the Palestinian Authority and Jordan who are being hit hard by this drought. In Gaza, the situation is especially difficult. Jordan is also struggling after it absorbed two million refugees from Syria and Iraq – it doesn’t have water. I think we need to think how we work together with Jordan on water issues,” Shaham warned.
Therefore, water’s purposes can go far beyond quenching Israel’s thirst – it can also be a diplomatic tool.
Additionally, Israel’s ability to export its water technology and show the world how it has increased its freshwater supply by 15% and is able to recycle more than 88% of its water is knowledge the rest of the world wants.
Understanding the great need for this, in addition to its reservoir project, Jewish National Fund also engages in soft diplomacy. It’s Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT ) teaches farmers from developing countries how to use environmentally sustainable agricultural methods to bring innovative sustainable practices to their villages and towns across Africa, the Far East and the South Pacific. Jewish National Fund also offers a premier H20 tour that brings persons concerned about the environment along with water experts from across the United States to Israel to learn more about how Israel cemented itself as a pioneer in water technology.
“I think the H20 tours are unique and critical to our collective future,” Kelman, who led 2017’s trip, said.
“Last year, we had participants from across the US who found this tour to be thought provoking and a true discovery as they witnessed first-hand how Israel has mastered mitigating water scarcity by doing more with less water consumption, greater leak detection, and farming practices that reuse every drop two, three times, and more. They came to listen and learn and walked away amazed,” he added, noting that 2018’s tour will take place in December.
“I’ve led many tours over the years and I’ve never seen people as engaged as this group. JNF continues to create great goodwill ambassadors to talk about smart water management and technology in Israel and how it can change the world for the better. That’s the best return on my investment,” he said.This article was written in cooperation with JNF-USA.