Drying Up

Reading Daniela Tenhamm’s essay “Think Beyond” in which she contemplated about the inefficient use of energy around the world, and the way her country (Chile), controlled energy use during its 1989 energetic crisis, made me think about my own country’s crisis. As an Israeli, I grew up knowing that my country will always face the danger of water shortages.

Photo by Strauss Group.
Photo by Strauss Group.

Israel’s semi-arid climate, which is characterized by very short rainy seasons and often years of successive drought, leads to a constant shortage of water. In an average year Israel’s natural water sources store about 1,400 million cubic meters of water. However, each year Israel uses about 1,570 million cubic meters of water divided as follows:

  • 800 million cubic meters for domestic and public uses.
  • 550 million cubic meters for agriculture.
  • 90 million cubic meters for industrial uses.
  • 130 million cubic meters are transferred to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

This means that Israel is missing 170 million cubic meters of water every year. [1] This shortage becomes even greater during drought years, and as the Israeli population grows so does the demand for fresh water. In order to face the constant water shortage, the Israeli government implemented an advanced water pricing policy and encouraged innovation in water-related technologies, such as:

  • Wastewaters reuse purification facilities that enable reusing wastewater for agricultural irrigation, watering gardens and industrial needs.
  • Brackish and seawater desalination plants that make brackish and seawater safe for drinking.
  • Plastic emitter for drip irrigation that slowly releases water and small streams by the roots of plants.
  • Faucet aerator is a device installed at the faucet head and enables aeration and reduces water consumption by about one-third.

One of the biggest and most effective steps taken by the Israeli government was the nation wide water conservation campaign “Israel is Drying Up”, aimed to educate the public on how to save and wisely use fresh-water. The campaign, running from 2009 until 2012, included a series of TV ads featuring Israeli celebrities telling people about the extreme water shortage after a number of consecutive arid years, and the importance of wise water choices.

These public service announcements had a profound impact on the Israeli public and were accompanied by informational classes in schools across the country promoted by the Ministry of Education, including a free installation of 2.8 million faucet aerator devices in private homes, sponsored by the Water Authority. The campaign worked. Water use rates in private household and for municipal consumption decreased by 18.5% on average.[2] For now, Israel has successfully managed their drought conditions.

But more than successfully beating the current droughts, Israel has successfully educated its society to be mindful of the way they use their water. The small actions taken by people during these sever droughts periods soon became daily habits that were kept long after the water crisis was over. People in Israel became aware of how precious a resource, water, is. They kept closing the tap while brushing their teeth or washing their heads, using the dishwasher or the laundry machine only when they where full, and irrigating their gardens and plants only at nighttime (to prevent water loss due to evaporation).

Those small-everyday habits are what still make a difference and keeps Israel from another water crisis. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I realized that these habits are imprinted in me. I was shocked to noticed public parks being irrigated in the middle of the day. I was annoyed by my roommate who kept the tap running while she brushed her teeth. I was surprised when my friend told me he took a log-relaxing bath. Everything seemed so wasteful. Does America have unlimited water sources?

Well the answer is NO. Water shortage is not just Israel’s problem; it’s a global problem! Less the 3% of the water on Earth is fresh water and out of that more than 68% is unavailable for human use. If we’ll continue using fresh water at current rates, more than 47% of the world population will suffer from water shortage by 2030.  Fresh water, as energy, is a finite resource in our world. As such we should use water in a sustainable manner, so it will be available not only for our use but for the use of future generations as well.

Photo from United States Geological Survey.
Photo from United States Geological Survey.

Israel’s success in water conservation served as a case study for Brazilian authorities when examining how to deal with the millions of people expected to flood the country for 2016 Olympics games, who will waste massive amounts of water. In 2009 a delegation of senior Brazilian officials visited Israel in order to learn about the different water conservation solutions Israel has offer them.[3] Solutions that, as I believe, should be examined by every country around the world.

It seems that only once depletion of a resource becomes a concrete danger for a country, it will act and try to find ways to conserve it. It’s what happened with water for Israel, and it’s what happened with energy for Chile. But we shouldn’t look for solutions only when a problem becomes concrete, as Daniela said, “we should think beyond.” We should find ways to sustainably use the finite resources we have, while we still have them. And we should utilize the experience and knowledge gained by other countries to do so.

[1]Water Saving.” Israeli Water Authority. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

[2]The Secrets of Saving: Israel’s Water Conservation.” New Tech The Secrets of Saving Israels Water. 26 July 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

[3] Darel, Yael. “Brazil to Learn Water Saving from Israel for Rio 2016.” Ynet News. N.p., 11 Dec. 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

2 thoughts on “Drying Up

  1. That’s so interesting to hear about Israel’s celebrity ad campaign to help fight the problem – California houses troves of national and international celebrities but they have yet to make a move towards water conservation. ARNOLD, WHERE ARE YOU WHEN THE ENVIRONMENT NEEDS YOU MOST?!