Israel not alone in water troubles

Other countries are battling to squeeze the last drop out of scarce water resources.

kineret 88.298 (photo credit: )
kineret 88.298
(photo credit: )
Israel's water problems may look grave, with the Kinneret dropping to new lows and the price of water set to rise, but other countries - such as Australia and Jordan - are facing similar, if not worse, crises due to the scarcity of this resource, according to Israeli water experts. "Australia is very much behind in terms of irrigation and efficiency in comparison to Israel," Alon Tal, professor of water management at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "Australia has been experiencing acute drought for several years, whereas Israel has had a more steady supply." "Israel's water crisis is not as bad as [in] its neighboring countries," Tal added. "Israel has access to the Mediterranean Sea, so we have unlimited water access. We're never going to be out of water." Still, the water problem in Israel is "very serious," said Uri Schor, spokesman for the Water Authority, which last Tuesday released a short-term emergency plan to stem the "worst water crisis in the nation's history." The plan will raise prices on water used for gardening to reduce usage and will pump water from tributaries that flow into the Kinneret. "The main concern is to cut down the demand for water," Schor said. In addition, the Water Authority plans to invest NIS 12 billion in infrastructure, desalination, sewage treatment and conservation education over the next five years, the Post reported Tuesday. Some experts do not think the emergency plan will be effective. "We have no other plans [this year] except to increase as much as possible desalination of sea water and brackish water, to stop pumping from Lake Kinneret, restrict the pumping from the acquifers, and hope that God will be kind and nice to us next year," said Eilon Adar, director of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research. "It will not be enough unless we can come up with more water. It's too risky to depend on God." However, Israel is just one of many countries that are struggling with water scarcity. Australia is feeling the effects of a decade-long drought most acutely in the Murray-Darling river system, one of the world's longest rivers and the region that produces 70% of the continent's irrigated agriculture. In June, the Murray-Darling river system saw the lowest level of rainfall in 117 years - only 16% of the average. Additional water is lost in Australia's Murray River due to "return irrigation flow," which pollutes the water with pesticides and herbicides, Adar said. Brisbane, located at Australia's northeast tip, is now experiencing its worst drought in 100 years, with five consecutive low-rainfall years and water shortage, with supplies at just 38 percent of capacity, said Alison Drury, third secretary and cultural attaché of the Australian embassy. The Australian government has agreed to invest AUD 3.7 billion in water conservation in the river basin by limiting the amount of water lost through leaking pipes and evaporation from open irrigation channels. The government's 10-year "Water for the Future" plan will invest a total AUD 12.9b. in strategic water management, including AUD 1b. in an "urban water and desalination program," Drury explained. However, scientists have warned the Australian government that the plan for the Murray-Darling river system will not provide sufficient water flow to the lower basin in time to prevent irreversible damage. Israeli companies are currently providing knowledge on desalination and other water conservation efforts to help Australia battle the effects of drought, Paul Israel, CEO of the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce, said. Still, Adar cautioned that Israel and Australia's water issues should not be compared. "Our economies are completely different," he said, adding that Australia uses water mainly for domestic purposes, while Israel uses it for agriculture. Closer to home, Jordan is also suffering from severe drought after an especially dry season drained the dams that usually supply the country with water. Jordan, where water sources are already scarce, will be left to rely largely on water pumped in from Israel and Syria. Jordan's drought is much worse than Israel's, Schor told the Post this April. Adar said that Jordan's closest source of water was "via Israel, but for political reasons they don't like having to be dependent on Israel for a life resource." Adar said that the water situations of Jordan and Israel differed because Jordan has one of the lowest water efficiencies in the world, whereas Israel's is one of the highest. "The know-how was developed in Israel, whereas Jordan has to buy everything," he said. AP contributed to this report.