Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Drastic Measures to Resolve a Drought

The extreme water shortage in Israel and dire predictions for the future of the country's water resources bring the recent chilling of the relationship between Israel and Turkey into sharper focus.

Water reservoir supplies in Israel are now so low, that experts are saying weather will only determine the severity of the water crisis. If this winter is better than the last, arid one, than the situation will remain critical, but potentially manageable. If this winter is the same or worse than last year's than drastic measures including water imports and expensive portable desalinization machines will be needed.

One of the drastic solutions proposed, and one that underscores the importance of good relations between Israel and Turkey is the possibility of bulk water transfers from Turkey to Israel. The idea is not new but previous governments never went through with it because other methods of accessing more freshwater (like desalination) were found to be less expensive. The difference is that this time, the situation may be grave enough as to merit this costly step.

Water transfers are problematic for so many reasons. They can cause real damage to the ecosystem they are taken from, they are sometimes problematic to transport and distribute, there is the risk that water becomes treated as a commodity, which could have broader impacts at international law and they risk instilling a false sense of security in the importer which may have the consequence of reducing or relaxing conservation efforts.

In the Israeli case, certainly in an emergency where the water levels are near the point of an environmental, economic or human disaster something would have to be done to prevent a crisis and perhaps in this case, a bulk water import would be merited. What should really be the outcome of this is a deep introspection and domestic discussion in Israel of how to build a country in a desert. The Israeli dream has always been making the desert bloom and the idea of encouraging Jews to move to Israel to "return home" encourages population growth in places where there should perhaps be little or no population at all. Israel needs to re-examine the labour Zionist dream of working the land in the form of cultivation and whether more of the population should somehow be shifted or encouraged to shift into other sectors that are less water intensive.

The Israeli Water Authority is satisfied with the results of their various water conservation efforts which reduced consumption to 89 cubic meters of water consumed per Israeli per year (see this slightly out of date chart for an idea of how that compares to other developed countries) but obviously, these efforts were not enough.

Something will need to change in the way Israel uses and conserves water, or scenes likes this one, a water tanker off-loading in the port of Barcelona, will become common scenes in Israel and the ecological consequences and dependency on imports will have wide ranging impacts.

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