Ronald S. Lauder
Ronald S. Lauder
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Solving the water crisis is a job for philanthropy

Unburdened by politicians’ need to show fast results, private donors are uniquely positioned to focus on solving long-term problems like water
Water (iStock)
Water (iStock)

The greatest challenge humankind faces today isn’t COVID. It’s water. 

For the past 50,000 years, people have grappled with how to maintain and protect access to clean, safe, and reliable water sources. From the ancient Mayans to the Tang Dynasty, the fate of, and ultimate demise of, so many civilizations has been due to water, or lack thereof.

Water is truly life.

When I began talking about water a quarter century ago, people would always tell me there’s water here, water there, water everywhere. Yet as I said then and as is abundantly clear to everyone today, there is a lot less water here, there, or anywhere. 

Having served for decades in the government and the private sector, it’s clear to me that the philanthropic community should not only be part of the conversation on water, they must lead it.

Winston Churchill famously said, “Many forms of Government have been tried…Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” But as governments around the world attempt to devise long-term plans to ensure water resources, one of democracy’s greatest strengths, elections, is also its weakness.

In democracies around the world, politicians struggle to make long-term decisions because we, their constituents demand to see results today, not in 20 years.

Unencumbered by politics, news cycles and policy wonks, philanthropy is inherently suited to solving long-term, generation-spanning problems like water. It takes will and it takes leadership.

During my chairmanship of Jewish National Fund-USA, we were free to plan, to dream, and to envision a future for our children long after we have left this earth. 

In Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, we built 250 reservoirs, revolutionary water drilling projects, and water recycling plants. Of course, we worked with local municipalities and governments. Yet, we drove the agenda, raised the capital needed for our philanthropic investments, and guided our vision in a way that future generations would benefit. 

Today, Israel recycles 90 percent of its water thanks to our work all those decades ago.

Through private sector support and philanthropic investments from organizations like Jewish National Fund-USA, Israel’s diverse array of solutions has enabled the country to  forever set aside fears over the risk of drought.

Think about that for a moment. Israel has become the first civilization in human history to overcome an existential threat caused by a lack of water. Israel now provides much-needed water to its neighbors. 

Water is life. Water is peace. 

The father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl said, “if you will it, it is no dream.” Even if politicians don’t have the luxury to dream long-term, we the people do and the philanthropic world and I will continue to ensure this precious source of life is there for generations to come.

Click here for more information on JNF-USA’s efforts to support water sustainability or contact Tali Tzour at

About the Author
Ronald S. Lauder has served as president of the World Jewish Congress since 2007. He previously served as chairman of the Jewish National Fund and of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
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