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How Israel became water tech powerhouse

Mr Zeev Elkin, Israel's minister for Water Resources.
Mr Zeev Elkin, Israel’s minister for Water Resources. Israel has one of the most efficient water systems in the world. It loses only 3% of water.

Israel is located in Middle East, which has faced water shortage for thousands of years. In recent years, Israel has aggressively embraced water technologies to meet its water needs. Today, technology has helped Israel have enough water to even sell to its neighbours.

Israel is located on a stretch of a desert and 60% of the country is arid. This resulted in a constant pursuit for new technological solutions to manage water.

“This is how Israel has become a country of solutions in water arena,” said Mr David Leffler, director general, ministry of economy and industry, Israel. He spoke on 10 November when he opened a two-day Digital Water Israel Virtual Expo on water technologies and water management.

Mr Leffler said that Israeli water sector consist of leading universities, large and small firms, development centres and start-ups. These are all driven to gain experience and accumulate knowledge in water, he said.

“Over the years, Israeli companies have become major players in global market associated with innovation and thinking outside of the box mindset,” Mr Leffler said.

Israel is located in Middle East, which has faced water shortage for thousands of years. In recent decades, the country has aggressively embraced water technologies. Today, Israel supplies all its water needs and even sells water to neighbours.

What was key for this change from water shortage to abundance?

Desalination

Water in Israel has long been insufficient. The natural sources of water – the Sea of Galilee and the underground aquifers – cannot supply the quantities of water that the various sectors require.

Rainfall is not constant over the years. Sometimes rainfall is below the multi-year average during a period of successive years.

So, Israel gets 80% of its drinking water from sea after desalination, a process of removing salt from seawater.

For Israel, seawater desalination is the most reliable of the sources for enriching the water supply. This is because seawater is available in unlimited quantities and involves no dependency – neither on climate nor on political factors.

Mr Zeev Elkin, minister for Water Resources, said desalination is the most important reason why Israel has enough water.

Israel is one of the leading countries in the field of desalination,” he told Digital Water Israel Virtual Expo on 10 November. “Big percentage of our water needs is coming from desalination plants.”

In August 2000, Israel’s cabinet started a desalination plan by building a seawater desalination plant on the southern coast for 50 million m3 (50 billion litres) a year.

Israel was producing 505 million m3 (505 billion litres) in 2013.

In 2018, the cabinet raised the desalination target of 750 million m3 (750 billion litres) by 2020 to 1,100 million m3 (1.1 trillion litres) by 2030.

As the country increases the amount of water from desalination, it has been able to reduce by half the cost of desalination.

“Due to advanced technologies we succeeded to reduce by 50% our desalination prices compared to prices of desalination in our first desalination plants,” Mr Elkin said.

Reducing water losses

Israel has one of the most efficient water systems in the world. The water loss in its national water system is about 3%. This is the water lost by the country’s municipal water systems.

“The explanation of this success is not only the management of the system,” Mr Elkin said. “But the key issue is technologies. Israel is a country of technologies.”

In Kenya, water services firms are losing on average 43% of their water, which is valued at Sh8.9 billion.

Kenya’s Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb) report for 2020 shows that among public water firms, Nyeri was the only one that scored “good” in water loss for losing 15%.

The Kenyan regulator allows water loss to a maximum of 20%.

READ – Water firms lose almost half of water they produce valued at Sh9b

Using waste water

Israel’s success in using treated waste water has helped the country in managing its water resources. The country uses 87% of treated waste water in agriculture.

Half of the water used in agriculture is treated waste water.

Israeli firms have developed wastewater management technologies that allow cities and water utilities to improve wastewater quality and increase wastewater reuse.

“We are the leading country in the world in waste water use,” Mr Elkin said. “It is the issue of technologies, technologies and again technologies.”

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