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ISRAEL: Water woes

October 26, 2008 |  9:30 am


Israel's geographic location, steady population increase and rising living standards place a chronic strain on the country's limited water resources. Now, four consecutive years of drought are pushing the water problem into a full-blown crisis.

The shortage touches all areas of life -- agriculture and the environment as well as personal hygiene. Twenty-five years ago, "Raful," as then-agriculture-minister Rephael Eitan was known, proposed that Israelis shower in pairs. Fun as that may be, long-term national planning would have been more effective, according to a parliamentary inquiry committee on the Israeli water sector in 2002. More recently, national infrastructures minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer initiated an emergency plan that will, among other things, dramatically increase the country's desalinization capabilities.

Israelis are aware of the problem, even if not everyone applies themselves to conservation. Many actually listen when weather reporters speak animatedly about how much rain fell where, and monitoring the water level in the Kinneret -- the country's only natural freshwater lake-- is something of a national sport. Some websites affectionately indicate the sorry levels with a rubber duck bobbing up and down.

A media campaign run by the country's Water Authority offers a series of short spots urging conservation in all possible spheres, reminding the public that every drop counts.

So, FYI:

  • Cutting shower time by two minutes saves about 10 gallons of water.
  • Closing a dripping faucet saves 16.
  • Using the toilet economy-flush saves about 5 gallons a day.

The average Israeli uses about 42 gallons of water per day; the campaign hopes to encourage a 10% cut.

Israel's neighbors are in a similar predicament. Syria is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years with devastating effects on farming.

Water, like other resources, has strategic importance both regionally and globally. Last week, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson met with Israeli officials; in addition to renewable energy issues, the sides discussed cooperation in protecting Israel's water sources. Israel has good cooperation with Jordan on water issues, but the Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference on water, scheduled for this week in Jordan, was postponed due to disputes between Israel and the Arab League.

Pastorrabbi Although water was the subject of tense regional politics this week, it also was at the center of a successful cooperative effort that resulted in a new reservoir. Recently, the Dovrat-Scott Bauer Memorial Reservoir was dedicated in northern Israel. The $1.25 million for the reservoChristian_delegation_2ir built by the Jewish National Fund was donated by the Church on the Way in Van Nuys. The facility will hold purified wastewater for irrigating nearby farmlands and is named after Scott Bauer, the pastor who died at the pulpit in 2003 shortly after pledging his church's commitment to the project in the name of their deep love for Israel.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Photos: Top, an Israeli man walks past sinkholes caused by water shortagesnear the kibbutz of Ein Gedi in the Jordan Valley on September 10, 2008. Credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Below left, executive pastor Dan Hicks, Church on the Way, and JNF Rabbi Yerahmiel Barylka, who held a joint prayer at the reservoir site. Right, the 80-strong church delegation, inlcuding many members of Scott Bauer's family. Credit: Michael Huri

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