Water lessons from a ‘desert’ nation

Israel, a parched land, has transformed itself into a water sufficient nation thanks to an innovative approach to water management. Can India pick up a few tips?
Israeli Pavilion at India Water Week 2016 (Source: Israel Embassy, New Delhi)
Israeli Pavilion at India Water Week 2016 (Source: Israel Embassy, New Delhi)

The water scarcity that India is facing even before the onslaught of summers, and the plight of farmer’s in Marathwada have been making headlines every single day. Our water problems have been exacerbated by climate change, rapid development, increasing energy demands and unmindful, extravagant use of this limited resource. To ensure that we have enough water for tomorrow, what we need is more usable water and also better farming methods and policies that aid this initiative. The recently held India Water Week, 2016 where India partnered with Israel, was a step in this direction.

If you're wondering why Israel, it's because Israel has in the past faced acute water shortage, but today it has the most advanced national water management system harnessing nearly 98% of it’s annual rainfallWater is a scarce resource in Israel, but is well managed through innovation, optimisation and efficient use of available water, creating a green and blooming oasis in arid parts of the country.

Their flagship creation, drip irrigation, is a simple idea that has brought about a global revolution in agriculture. It helps increase yield quantity and quality, optimises water usage alongside fertigation, as the exact water needs of each crop is fulfilled, without wasting even one extra drop of water. It has helped achieve 70%-80% of water efficiency in agriculture and today Israel has the highest ratio in the world of crop yield per water unit.

Israel also recycles its wastewater and is the world's number one water recycler. An impressive 85% of highly purified sewage is reused for agriculture, 10% for other purposes and only 5% is released back into the sea. More than 75% of their domestic consumption is provided by desalination, a process that removes salt and minerals from seawater to produce fresh water fit for human consumption or irrigation. It’s Seawater Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant annually produces 100 million cum at the low cost of approximately $0.52/ cum of water--the most cost-efficient of its kind in the world.

Is it possible to adopt and adept Israeli technology in India? Can these ideas shared from Israel help solve our water problems? India Water Portal spoke to Ambassador Gil Haskel, Head, MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, to understand this co-operation better. 

After defence & agriculture, why has water become the next important partnership issue between Israel and India?

Israel has been in the forefront of developing technologies of water efficiency be it water consumption, storage, purification, usage for household consumption or agriculture. India identified this and started engaging to transfer Israeli technology to India to meet the challenges, which are similar to that of Israel. Israel is one of the driest countries in the world, similar to some regions in India that share the same characteristics. And thus this understanding between the two countries on sharing of this knowledge. 

Will Israeli know-how and techniques be tweaked to provide a local context in India?

Technology always has to be adapted to the local habitat. Economics is an important factor,  some communities can afford more expensive technologies than others while sometimes one needs to scale down the cost of the system by adapting to local needs. And that is what we plan to do when we introduce these technologies to India. The actual transmission of these technologies will be the private sector from Israel and India under a G2G (government to government) umbrella.

What are Israel’s expectations from this exchange?

This is an integral part of the very close relations between India and Israel in many spheres and aspects. I don’t think in every single aspect, both benefit from an exchange. In some exchanges India benefits more from Israel, and in others Israel does so. In the specific area of water, Israel has more to offer in terms of technology to India, than vice versa, and we are very happy to share this with India. We are not expecting a one on one benefit for each and every step in our relationship.

What are the water risks that Israel and India face? Any similarities or differences between the two? 

Today, fortunately Israel is not under water risk anymore. In the last decade we have invested heavily in desalination of seawater. Today nearly 60% of our household water use comes from the sea. Of course the magnitude of both the countries is very different, but India is surrounded by the sea, and there is no reason why you cannot utilise seawater for household consumption. Besides this, we purify 80% of our wastewater into quality drinking water and use it for agriculture. Water risks are universal, if there is no clean water, there cannot be any healthy communities. We managed to solve that, and if we can scale up the volume of what we did in Israel in India, it too can also be water risk-free country.

Israel's total water consumption has remained the same since the 1960s. How has that been ensured and do you think India too can do that?

The reason why the levels of water consumption in Israel are static is because we invest heavily in water efficiency. We drip irrigate, we purify wastewater, we cover agricultural areas to prevent water loss, and try to use rainwater efficiently. All these are proven technologies that proved their worth.

And yes, I definitely believe that India too can do it. All humans are the same, all are  equal. Anything done by one community in one country can be done in another. It does not depend upon the race, colour or religion. Anything done in Israel can be duplicated in India. Of course, the scales may be different. We would like to share our experiences and knowledge with India as it is  not very wise for every country to learn from the start or reinvent the wheel.

Water is a hugely emotive subject in our country. Any comments on this?

The emotional part of water in India is not about wasting it. It is about respecting and worshipping it.

India Water Portal would like to thanks Ambassador Gil Haskel and the Embassy of Israel for this conversation.

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