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The Global Water Crisis

I just finished a wonderful recent book by Seth Siegel on the global water crisis. The book, Let There Be Water, should be a wake-up call for world leaders to take the water crisis more seriously. Let me summarize some of its most important findings.

In recent years, 600 million people have begun experiencing water shortages. In less than a decade it could be as high as 20 percent of the world’s population or 1.5 billion people. Since water is crucial to generating energy and agriculture, a water crisis will raise global food prices and slow economic growth. With insufficient water, low economic growth, and high food prices, this could lead to a rise in failed states.

As I pointed out in a previous column, the Syrian Civil War began in March 2011 after nearly five years of the worst drought in centuries. Over 800,000 Syrians lost their livelihoods from the droughts before the civil war began. The destruction of crops caused a rise in food prices.

The problem is that another Syria could happen very soon. While Syria is an extreme case, the water crisis will spare no country. According to Siegel’s book, the global middle class is growing and per capita water consumption will require world leaders to adopt new policies. From 2000 to 2009, the global middle class rose from 1.4 billion to 1.8 billion. By 2020, it is projected to be 3.25 billion people.

People who are in extreme poverty do not consume nearly as much meat as the global middle class. This is a problem in that raising a pound of beef requires seventeen times more water than producing a pound of corn.

This situation is not hopeless, but the Western world will have to change in order to adapt to the future. For example in London, 30 percent of the water is wasted every year due to leaky pipes while Chicago loses about 25 percent. In the developing world, losing 50 percent of water due to leaks is not uncommon.

Over the decades, Israel has become a global leader in drip irrigation, desalination, and handling water sewage. This has improved diplomatic relations for Israel.

The Chinese established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 in part because they needed Israel to help them with their water problems. In late 1983 and early 1984, Siegel notes, how China allowed Israel to send engineering teams to Guangxi Province.

Israel recommended to them that certain seeds would be better for farming and drip irrigation would be necessary. China agreed, but asked Israel to keep its role secret for the time being. The Chinese didn’t want to offend their allies in the Arab world.

A few years later, Israeli geologists and hydrologists were sent again to China. This time they were trying to develop water in the Gobi Desert. The Israelis came up with a plan to extract water from the desert along and suggested new products that would grow better in desert conditions.

China eventually took a chance in 1992 and officially established relations with Israel. From 1992 to 2013, bilateral trade grew from $50 million to $8.4 billion. When Prime Minister Netanyahu visited China in 2013, water was still at the top of their bilateral trade agenda.

The Chinese rapprochement should be a model for Israel’s other adversaries to follow.  For example, Gaza desperately needs Israel’s help. The 1.8 million people in Gaza are over-reliant on their primary water aquifer.

If there is not enough rain to replace the fresh water pumped out, the barrier between fresh water and salt water will eventually be breached, making the water undrinkable. This will cause unrest and make Gaza ungovernable.

Even if water can be sent to Gaza, the mismanagement of sewage water alone is not just a threat to Palestinian water supplies but also to Israel’s water infrastructure. The problem is that Hamas has made it clear that cooperation in this area would be tantamount to recognizing Israel.

China is proof that Israel doesn’t need recognition to help people with their water problems. I hope that the Palestinian people will force Hamas to listen to reason.

The crisis in Gaza can be repaired. We should not forget that Israel was able to make peace with Jordan and many of the Palestinians in the West Bank by sharing their water expertise. In 1967, only four towns in the West Bank’s 708 towns and cities had running water.

Despite a population increase from 600,000 in 1967 to 2.4 million Palestinians today, 96 percent of homes in the West Bank now have running water. There is no reason Israel cannot help Gaza.

Another enemy of Israel that needs help is Iran. As much as 70 percent of its people, 50 million, may have to leave their homes due to insufficient water.

In a few years, many of their aquifers will be unusable. Iran’s agriculture is among the least efficient in the world. Israel helped them before and they can do so again.

From 1962 to 1979, Israeli companies such as TAHAL, IDE Technologies, and Mekorot all worked in Iran and helped build desalination plants, dams, and sewer systems. While the Iranians tried to reverse engineer much of this technology, after the Israelis were expelled, they have not been able to fully master it.

Since the Iranians have just been given $150 billion from their nuclear deal, there is no reason that they cannot use some of that money to pay Israel to fix their water problems. Every dollar they spend on the water crisis is less money they will spend on terrorism.

Israel can play a big role in the world water crisis. I can only hope that the leaders in Syria, Iran, and Hamas will put aside their hatred long enough for Israel to help them.

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