The lack of natural water has not stopped Israel from becoming not only water sufficient, but also the world leader in water related technologies, including the drip irrigation in which it is rated the best in world. In an interaction with Anand Mishra, Editor, Governance Today, Uri Schor, the Spokesperson of Israel Water Authority, throws light on major issues related to water management and conservation in the country and how it has gone about converting a challenge into a technological opportunity.
Being a water scarce country, what are the water related issues that Israel faces?
More than sixty per cent of Israel is desert. Israel has had water problems for thousands of years; this area has been short of water for all time. In neighboring Jordan, in its capital city Amman, citizens get tap water once a week. They store it for use throughout the week. If that runs out, they have to buy water at high price. Now, Jordan has more water availability per capita than Israel. But in Israel, you have tap water available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, all through the year. So, it is not just the management of the water that is available, it is also about how creatively you think of handling the problem at hand.
More than half of water for all usage in Israel is man-made water. That gives us an advantage in managing the gap. The rest of water availability is a judicious mix of conservation and prevention of pilferage and waste. Mending the leakage in pipeline is an example. Just a few days ago I read that in Mumbai, the loss of water in pipeline is nearly 27 per cent. In Israel, it is less than 10 per cent. The reason is that we have put in place technology to find leaks and fix them without wasting time; saving wastage in process. So, all of this is required to ensure water availability if you don’t have much natural water.
But very often, people are not bothered. How can general population be brought in loop?
It is about knowledge and being informed. When I go to talk to kids in kindergarten, I ask them is it not magical that you open the tap and there is water? While children may respond with wide eyes on this magic, people at large need to be informed that a lot of effort by a large number of people goes to ensure that this magic continues. Further, this system needs to be guarded to keep this magic going. When they realize this, they prevent the wastage of water without changing their way of life. But it is important that they need to be reminded of this. I will give you just an example; a dripping tap can lead to wastage of 60 litres of water a day. It takes just about a second to close the tap. So, just be making people aware and reminding them of the enormity of the issue, you can do wonders.
How has Israel gone about putting in place such an extraordinary water management system?
Actually, it is a combination of many things. First and foremost, we simply do not have enough water. And if you have a problem, you have to deal with it. So, we have learnt to deal with the water scarcity. We try to invent, try to prevent wastage, try to find a way to do best with what we have. Because we have had this problem of water shortage for many, many years, we have been thinking of ways to deal with this problem all the time. About a decade ago, in early 2000s, we had a severe water crisis when we had seven drought years in a row. We had nearly reached a stage where we feared that someone would open a tap somewhere, and there won’t be water. So we stopped watering gardens by law; no city garden, no public garden, no individual person was allowed to use water for gardening. If we had not stopped water for gardening, we would have ran out of water to drink.
You have to prioritize your requirements. If we continue to use more water than we get from rain, the water level in water bodies would keep going down, and at one stage, it just would not be there. So, what do we do then? We would need to find other, new sources of water. Recycling is a prominent way. You reuse the water that has already been used. Desalination of sea water and brackish water is another one. But these steps take time. On an immediate basis, we need to cut consumption. For that, education, campaigns, explanations are to be used to encourage people to cut the usage of water without changing the way of life. After that, you need to prevent leaks, take care of infrastructure etc. In our case, the problem was so severe that we did everything together. Because of strong focus, we have reached a stage where more than half of our water is man-made. That allows us to deal with a drought year or series of drought years. We have developed technologies which we are always ready to share.
How much can the desalinized water substitute natural water and what all purposes it can be used for?
You need to decide how much you want to desalinate the water depending upon the end use. We desalinate the water for every use. But while desalination is surely an important measure that brings stability in the water availability situation, it is only one of the many measures we have taken to tackle the water scarcity issue. On an overall basis, Recycling and reusing of used water has also been used in a big way which also improves the quality of overall water available because it reduces contamination. Today, about 60 per cent of the water used for agriculture in Israel is recycled water.
What is your take on the Clean Ganga project?
Well, if you want to clean a river, the first thing to do is to stop polluting it further by stopping pollutants from entering it. If you do that, the river has a tendency to clean itself in due course. If you cannot prevent pollutants from coming into the river, no matter how much you try, the problem will remain.