Lessons from Israel on its water triumph

Yattir reservoir , Israel

A little bit about Israel :

Israel is a small country in the Middle East (about 150 times smaller than India , approx. the size of Indian state of Manipur) with a population of 8.3 Million people . Sixty percent of Israel is a desert and the rest is semi-arid . In the last few decades Israel’s rainfall has reduced by over 25% and yet the country has surplus water, and even exports water to Gaza, Palestine and its neighboring kingdom of Jordan.

Israel today is a waterpower-house and exports water technologies worth $2.2 Billion and assists around 150 countries around the world in areas of water management . How did such a small country do it ?

The religious culture of the Jewish people is 2000 years old and the Hebrew Bible has an interesting mention of how God instructs Moses(most important Jewish prophet) to strike a rock with a rod and water gushes out and provides ample water to its people. Jewish prayers are filled with prayer for rain and has several water-focused scriptures that have inculcated a tradition of awareness and gratitude for water .

What solutions have Israelis pioneered for a water-starved world ?

Revolutions on the farm :

Around the world today, flood irrigation is a widely used technique consuming large amounts of water that feed and irrigate large tracts of land. Also, this water evaporates and drains uselessly before being absorbed by the roots and more than 50% of flood-irrigation water is wasted .

Drip irrigation techniques not only saves around 70% of water but also produces higher quality and larger harvest when compared to traditional methods. Another pioneering method is ‘Fertigation’ in which fertilizer is dissolved and distributed along the water in the drip irrigation system providing precise nutrients to the crop.

Drip Irrigation set-up

Desalination methods :

Israeli Desalination Engineering perfected the scientific method that when seawater is frozen, salt gets pushed out of the water. If this salt can be rinsed off the frozen water crystals, what remains is salt-free frozen water(ice). And if this ice is melted, freshwater remains. This desalting technique has undergone innovations and today Israel has designed and built many of the world’s largest desalination plants . The largest desalination facilities in the world today are in Saudi Arabia but India is not too far behind with its own largest desalination plant producing 106 million gallons/day in Jamnagar, Gujarat.

Turning waste into water :

Israel is the only country that re-uses over 95% of its sewage, treats sewage as a treasured national resource and is the essential source of water for agriculture and other uses.

Unlike rainwater/freshwater , sewage is consistent, reliable and predictable and farmers have uninterrupted allocation of treated safe water . With cutting edge metering and leak detection systems and fair pricing of water, Israel’s agriculture regions have increased (unlike  the rest of the world where desert regions are increasing due to increased salt in the waters making it unfit for cultivation and creating social displacement and poverty). In comparison, in India , 80% of fresh water is used in agriculture with minimal treated sewage water.

How are India and Israel working together today ?

  • India and Israel are working closely together under the Agriculture project agreement and implementing drip irrigation systems . India today leads the world with 5 million acres utilizing drip irrigation techniques and the largest adopter of this technology in the world.
  • Reduce food waste : Working with the Horticulture Government of India, Israel is helping establish a value chain for packing and transporting harvest and fresh produce that extends shelf-life by more than 3 months. This has been implemented in 12 states of India having 28 centers to reduce wastage and optimize income of farmers.
  • Precision Agriculture : In precision agriculture, satellite images can help determine which parts of the field need more water, which plants have pest infections, etc. With this information available on mobile phones, farmers can apply fertilizers selectively and understand how much to irrigate and moderate water usage.
  • Bombus bee : To fight pests that destroy crops , a natural method is to introduce insects that control pest population rather than spraying insecticides. In Israel, the bombus bee which is like a bumble bee has been ‘domesticated’ by putting up special hives for it in greenhouses. It pollinates all kinds of flowers and does not bite, so farmers can work peacefully. In Himachal Pradesh, farmers are working on identifying a local bee species that can replicate the bombus bee’s success in pollinating flowers.
  • Seeds for salty water : Israeli plant geneticists have created tomatoes, brinjals, melons, peppers and other fruits and vegetables that thrive on salty water and are sweeter with better texture and have revolutionized the way farmers focus on seeds during drought and limited rain. Jain Irrigation is the largest Indian agriculture company that acquired Israeli company NaanDan and specializes in irrigation solutions and water sensitive products that increase crop yield.

What can we learn from Israel ?

India is facing multiple challenges such as population growth, rising middle class consuming more water, climate change, pollution of our water sources, leaky infrastructure among others. Taking water issues seriously , planning far ahead, educating our children on the value of water and how to save water are essential . We need vocal and respected water advocates, entrepreneurs working closely with the government on incentives to get water related technologies implemented. Learning from Israel’s sophisticated approach to water and the national pride they have in water conservation can serve as an inspiration to our leaders and citizens in the days to come.

Published by Meena Iyer

Sustainability champion and naturally committed to support the cause of healing our planet impacted due to climate change.

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