Israel and World Bank sign water tech deal

Together with the international financial institution, Israeli expertise will help countries face growing water challenges

An aerial view of Alicante, Spain, where a Netafim system recycles wastewater and distributes it via a drip-irrigation system, watering all public areas in the southern Spanish town. (Courtesy Netafim)
An aerial view of Alicante, Spain, where a Netafim system recycles wastewater and distributes it via a drip-irrigation system, watering all public areas in the southern Spanish town. (Courtesy Netafim)

Israel signed a deal this week with the World Bank to provide water-technology knowledge and expertise for use in the developing world. Under the deal, Israel has committed $500,000 to the World Bank Group’s Water Global Practice to enhance water knowledge in developing countries facing complex water security challenges.

The deal will also see Israeli water experts travel to countries to present technologies and techniques to prevent water waste and to reclaim resources. Delegations from abroad will also come to Israel to observe first-hand Israeli innovations in areas such as desalination, water filtration and sanitation, drip irrigation and more.

“Israel has had to manage water services while operating under extreme conditions of scarcity, and has done so very impressively,” said Jennifer Sara, director for water at the World Bank. “Its innovative practices are globally recognized — both from technological and institutional perspectives — and will undoubtedly carry lessons for many of the World Bank Group’s clients facing water-security challenges.”

Israel, located in one of the driest regions in the world, has been dealing with an ongoing shortage of water. This scarcity has worsened over the past years, due to prolonged droughts and to an increasing population. To tackle the issue, Israel has developed innovative approaches — to the point where much of the country’s water now comes from desalination or filtered and recycled water.

Drip irrigation, for example, was invented in Israel, and two of the world’s biggest drip-irrigation tech firms — Netafim and NaanDanJain — are Israeli. With drip irrigation, farmers water their crops using the precise amount of water needed, instead of just releasing large amounts onto a field (known as “flood irrigation”) and hoping for the best.

Drip irrigation can save as much as 90% of the amount — and expense — of water used for crops, and is relatively inexpensive to implement. NaanDanJain, which is active in India, even offers local farmers “pay as you go” financing, with drip-irrigation systems paid for out of the money they save on water usage.

However, according to Rafi Mehudar, one of the entrepreneurs who developed Netafim into a major supplier of drip-irrigation technology around the world, only 5% of the world’s farmers use it, with the rest relying on traditional flood irrigation.

“Eventually, farmers around the world are going to realize the advantages,” Mehudar told The Times of Israel in a recent interview. “There will soon be twice as many mouths to feed in the world as there are now. And of all the much-discussed technologies out there, including genetic modification, the only technology that has been proven to expand the amount of available land for crop growing — including the semi-arid land we are going to need to grow the food to feed those people — is drip-irrigation technology.”

It appears that even if the farmers did not come to that realization themselves, the World Bank has come to it on their behalf. The Bank has many programs to help finance the urban and agricultural development of countries, but it’s not a charity; it expects to get paid back when it loans billions to its clients. In order to ensure that this happens, the Bank runs dozens of programs to help countries learn how to more efficiently and effectively feed, educate, employ and provide health care for their populations.

The World Bank Group’s Water Global Practice is currently responsible for the supervision of a portfolio of approximately $22 billion in lending through 181 projects and about 200 “active knowledge” educational projects. The largest programs currently being conducted are in the areas of water supply and sanitation, as well as in irrigation and water-resources management.

Israel is anxious to share its water tech with everyone, said Economy Minister Aryeh Deri, who signed the deal with the World Bank on Israel’s behalf.

“We wish to share our experience with the developing world,” he said. “We see this agreement as a first step that will allow us to launch our partnership with the World Bank and later to build on it and broaden it.”

This is Israel’s second deal with the Bank. Last year, Israel became a member of the Bank’s Education Practice to develop training courses that focus on big-data applications and cybersecurity, agricultural technology and water-management technology. The Economy Ministry committed $500,000 in order to organize and run the courses in Israel.

The deal, said Amit Lang, director general of the Economy Ministry, “is an important step that “strengthens our efforts to support Israeli activities in the developing world and to focus on the water sector led by our national program, called Israel NewTech. We hope to create more exposure to Israeli best practices.”

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