Israel: Effective Supply-Side Solutions but is Water Security Still Threatened?

8 November 2017 Madeleine Lovelle, Research Analyst, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

Background

With two-thirds of the country classed as arid, and the other third semi-arid, Israel has always had to generate creative solutions to ensure that it remains water-secure. Israel has successfully generated surplus water, an effort that is praised by countries facing similar water shortages. Israel generates 55 per cent of its domestic water requirements from desalination, and other techniques, including drip irrigation and water treatment, have been at the forefront of Israeli water supply management. The arid country’s water conservation policies have been so successful that it has previously considered exporting its excess water to neighbouring countries.

Comment

Until recently, Israel was considered to have had more water than it needs. Following a four-year drought, however, the surplus water supply that the traditionally arid country has become accustomed to in recent years has started to become threatened. The drought has caught many off-guard, particularly since the relaxation of a water conservation campaign that aimed to preserve precious water supplies.

The unexpected water supply shortage is creating uncertainty for Israeli farmers, and if it continues, will have a worsening effect on future harvests. Farmers, who have already experienced the most hardship from this prolonged period of drought, have protested against proposals by the government to cut water use by up to 50 per cent in some areas. For domestic consumers, however, there is a lack of understanding about the severity of the drought. Households have become accustomed to Israel’s artificially abundant water supply, despite the Water Authority warning, in October 2017, of dangerously low water levels in certain reservoirs, particularly the Sea of Galilee.

In response to the drought, the Israeli Government has considered building an additional desalination plant, as well as creating extra reservoirs to capture flood and rain waters. Constructing the reservoirs is likely to be a quick solution, and compared to the potential US$400 million ($520 million) cost of building an additional desalination plant, is likely to come in at a much more affordable US$60 million ($78 million). It is important to emphasise, however, that short-term alternatives should not be used as a “band-aid” solution to generate an abundant supply of water again.

Israel’s supply-side water management strategy is not a problem in itself; it has, arguably, created a great deal of prosperity and security for the traditionally-arid country. There is danger, however, in failing to adequately ensure that demand-side pressures are again tended to. Water is precious, and allowing consumers to hold relaxed attitudes towards water conservation and consumption, particularly when there is not an abundant, naturally-occurring supply, may cause problems in the long term. Ensuring optimal water security ought to be a two-pronged approach that places equal importance on maintaining supply-side factors, while ensuring that the demand for water is sustainable.

The Middle East already experiences high levels of conflict and tension throughout the region. Syria and Jordan currently depend on some of the same water resources as Israel, and parts of Palestine have allegedly been restricted by Israel from accessing enough water to meet demand (in particular, those sections under Israeli control in the West Bank). According to the World Bank, increasing pressure on Israeli water sources could lead to an increase in migration, and ultimately, conflict throughout the region. Israel is again facing the need to implement crucial education campaigns aimed at promoting conservative water use. Failure to manage short-term demand during this current supply shock could have implications in the future stability of the wider region.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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