Israel is in one of the driest regions in the world; it has always suffered from chronic water shortages and exploitation of its natural resources. Miracles were, and some believe still are, necessary to overcome droughts. Jewish tradition tells the story of Honi the Circle Maker, who lived at the time of the second Temple (first century BCE), and managed to bring rain after a terrible drought. No rain had fallen all winter so the people sent for Honi who drew a circle in the ground, stood in the middle of it, raised his hands to heaven and vowed not to move until it rained. And it did!
Miracles are also happening in Israel today. Thanks to a major national effort to desalinate Mediterranean seawater and to recycle wastewater, Israel has enough water for all its needs, even during severe droughts. Due to this achievement DER SPIEGEL magazine wrote recently that Israel is a country of water miracles.
Four major desalination plants went into operation in the past decade. Israel has become the world leader in recycling and reusing wastewater for agriculture. It treats nearly 90 % of its domestic wastewater and recycles it for agricultural use accounting for 55 percent of the total water used for agriculture. Spain is second to Israel, recycling 17 % of its effluent, while the US recycles just 1 %. Drip irrigation as well as a sophisticated system that digitally monitors leaks in water lines were invented in Israel. Today the water reservoirs in Israel are full and much of the desert is green. High-tech produce, including sweet cherry tomatoes, peppers and crimson roses, burst forth from the earth.
Israel is eager to share its know-how to help drought-ridden areas around the world, such as California, which is in its fourth year of an epic drought. Many countries have already introduced Israeli solutions for desalination, water reclamation, water project engineering, water safety and water quality. Last summer Israel and the World Bank signed an agreement to share innovative best practices in water. Under the agreement study tours are expected to be held in Israel in the next two years that will include officials from developing countries as well as World Bank Group staff.
This month Israel will submit to the UN General Assembly a resolution entitled ‘Agriculture Technology for Development’, dedicated to the advancement of sustainable agricultural and water technologies for developing countries.
Israel aspires to use its expertise to help its neighbors. Last year, it signed an agreement to construct a shared desalination plant in Jordan and would like to expand its water cooperation with the Palestinians.
Last month thousands of water professionals from around the world gathered in Tel Aviv to attend WATEC Israel, a biennial exhibition and conference on issues of water treatment. The participants were introduced to new and innovative Israeli technologies, including photovoltaic systems that float on the surface of a body of water and a solar battery-operated sensor that monitors the level of water in plants.
In his recently published book, ‘Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World’, author Seth M. Siegel quotes from Theodor Herzl, the visionary behind modern Zionism, who predicted in his utopian novel more than a hundred years ago, that the water engineers will be the heroes of the Jewish homeland.
Such heroes exist today in Israel. They continue to make strides in smart irrigation and water technology systems, and like Honi the circle maker, are performing miracles that enable water to flow through the desert ground.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”
Daniel Meron is Head of the UN & International Organizations Bureau, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. He participates in the ‘Accelerator program’ at KOLOT, an Israeli pluralistic Beit-Midrash for leaders, connecting Jewish core values to contemporary Jewish life in Israel