The UN has identified the lack of water availability and the need for sustainable water management as one of the biggest challenges facing the world today.

By JODIE COHEN   MAY 26, 2021

THE KINNERET, Israel’s sole natural drinking water source (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
THE KINNERET, Israel’s sole natural drinking water source (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

It seems we’re dealing with one crisis after another at the moment. And there, in the background, is still the lingering threat of the climate crisis that remains unresolved.At US President Joe Biden’s Global Climate Summit last month, in which 40 world leaders came together to discuss ways to save the planet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participated on behalf of Israel. As well as discussing Israel’s advances in renewable – particularly solar – energy, he also talked about how Israel is making “a big difference” in water too, reflecting the interconnectedness of these issues. The UN has identified the lack of water availability and the need for sustainable water management as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – the biggest challenges facing the world today.What exactly is the problem?

“Without earth, there is no rain; without rain, the earth cannot endure, and without either, humanity cannot exist” (Genesis, Rabbah 13:3)That’s how important water is.It seems hard to believe, but in 2021, roughly 2.2 billion people still lack access to safely managed drinking water. According to the UN, water scarcity could displace 700 million people as soon as 2030.In Israel, we will have to find ways to grow food for an increasing population with limited water resources and irregular rainfall. The area of the State of Israel is only 22,072 km., with 98% of that being land. The remaining 2% is made up of two bodies of water – the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Only the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret) serves as a natural drinking water source. Water is so precious in Israel that the TV news reports on the Kinneret’s water levels alongside the daily summer weather forecast.So how is Israel, a country that is mainly desert and that suffered years of drought in the 1980s and 90s, contributing to providing clean water solutions, not only in Israel, but also in other countries?

Turning crisis into opportunity

We’ve managed to turn the curse of our lack of water resources into a blessing – the crisis into an opportunity. We’ve become a world leader in water recycling, which means we now even export water to other countries.

As Netanyahu said, “We have shown the world how to use water more efficiently in agriculture through pioneering developments in drip irrigation, hydroponic agriculture and the use of artificial intelligence. Israel is a world leader in water purification and recycling, as well as in desalination.”

In fact, roughly 93% of Israel’s wastewater is now purified. Israel leads the world in wastewater recycling, transforming an environmental problem into a resource. About 86% is recycled and then used for agricultural purposes. These are very big numbers. For comparison, the water recycling rate in the US is less than 10%, and the US Environmental Protection Agency has sought close collaboration with Israel on this issue.

Fresh, clean drinking water – from the sea, air and ground

Between 2005 and 2015, Israel changed its entire water system by building desalination plants that comply with the highest standards of the Ministry of Health’s drinking water regulations. So now fresh water is accessed from the sea, and Israel’s desalination technology is being used by other countries, such as India, to do the same.

Watergen’s patented atmospheric drinking water (AWG) technology creates high quality drinking water – from air. The AWG units use humidity in the air to bring affordable, clean and fresh drinking water to people across the world. Watergen has donated countless solar-powered water-making machines to places facing a water crisis, like Gaza, and to disaster zones. When California, for example, was facing its most destructive wildfire ever, Watergen literally pulled water out of thin air to help put the fire out.Israel is also bringing clean water to the most remote African villages through Innovation:Africa. By installing solar panels, water can be accessed from deep in the ground through an electric pump. This frees up hours each day for women, who no longer need to walk for miles to access water for their families.

Sharing our innovations and expertise with others

Agriculture is the main water consumer in Israel, so Israel invented drip irrigation. Netafim is the established leader in the field, with 50 years of experience working across every continent. Each year, the organization runs more than 350 projects in more than 40 countries, covering 300,000 km. of drip line irrigation.“

With agriculture consuming 70% of the planet’s freshwater supply and farmers contending with droughts and the impact of climate change on rainfall patterns, water-efficient farming is now a global priority,” says Gabriel Miodownik, CEO of Netafim. “Precision irrigation allows farmers to make the most out of the water available to them by increasing water efficiency by 50% compared to other irrigation methods, expanding yields and utilizing recycled and saline water.”Israel also partners with a number of countries and international bodies to share best practices, research and innovations to achieve more optimal water management.

India is a great example. Indian farmers have been partnering with Israel, using Israeli drip irrigation technology since 1993. Under the Indo-Israeli Agricultural Project, Israel provides expertise, technical know-how and training to Indian farmers in water management practices at roughly 30 Centers of Excellence.

Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Modi signed a Strategic Partnership in Water in 2018, and there are currently over 30 Israeli water projects in India. And in August 2020, despite the global pandemic, Israel signed a further water co-operation agreement to partner with the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to implement the Israeli model for water management.Water is an integral part of our new cooperation with the UAE and Bahrain, and we export water to places like Jordan. Going forward, Israel will no doubt consider how water could play an even greater role in helping to strengthen Arab-Israeli peace. 

The writer helps multinational companies report on how they are contributing to tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. An anchor on India’s World Is One News and Middle East commentator on various international news channels, she is also the author of Tikkun Olam: Israel vs COVID-19.