Imagine pineapples, vineyards and a forest of millions of trees growing in the desert. And a million litres of water purified from a town’s effluent and factories, irrigating the crops of the future? These are a few of the wonders I saw in the Negev.
Deep concern about climate change and the current water crisis in the Western Cape drove me to arrange a day tour of the Negev to explore a few examples of Israel’s achievements in water, agriculture and forestry a few weeks ago. It was mind-blowing.
In a country where land, water, arable soil and fossil fuels are scarce, foresight and clever technology, based on sound research, have created models of sustainability that other countries strive for– enough resources to sustain healthy lifestyles and economies, and, in some instances, abundance.
I last visited Israel 26 years ago as Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) began, an organization started from a vision of a healthier, greener, more food secure and climate resilient South Africa. The Jewish National Fund of SA was the first to show interest.
They arranged a two-week study tour for our founding board members to meet scientists, academics, farmers and foresters, experts in trees and forestry, water management, agriculture and soil. The solutions driven innovation and implementation astounded us. We returned inspired to apply lessons learned from the unique Israeli experience of managing water, trees, food and energy, in South Africa.
Today this experience and knowledge could prove vital.
Israel now leads the world with 80% water reuse. Runners up Spain reuse 20%.
Water is successfully produced and harvested through desalination, biofilters and remarkably efficient management of waste water.
Quality water is delivered to all residents, farmers, industry and business and excess provided to Jordan and the Palestinian Authorities. The Sderot Reservoir built, under missile fire, from a pragmatic vision to address drought in the southern Negev, now purifies all effluent from the town, factories and farms for reuse on local agriculture.
Besor Research and Development Centre’s work with local farmers is resulting in better crops for export, and local use, in healthier soils, using minimal, even saline water. Charts around the old tower over the forest of Yatir show recorded rainfall rising annually, from the start of the plantings in the 1960’s and as more trees were planted and grew. An inspiration to FTFA’s initial greening and climate change work, today the view of this green forest of over 4 million trees, planted to combat desertification, is spectacular. Be-erSheva, amodel city, shows how nature should be embraced in urban development. It is an example of pioneering urban planning that integrates natural capital. Landscaping for aesthetics and resource management enhance attractive, well-designed suburbs. Trees line the streets providing much needed shade and recreation areas.
They help to slow and clean water runoff, as well as cleaning the air and absorbing greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. We have much to learn from Israel’s green tech and innovation and they are willing to share. Replicating projects like these few I was privileged to see could positively alter South African lives. The Western Cape, in drought and predicted to be facing a seriously dry future, would benefit greatly from these world water leaders.
We should have started to learn and implement decades ago but now is the next best time.