Israel’s Watergen provides ‘water-from-air’ units to medical facility in Syria

Partnering with US organization that delivers aid to Syrians, Petah Tikva firm installs first of 10 planned water units in former IS HQ Raqqa

Ricky Ben-David is a Times of Israel editor and reporter

A Watergen water-from-air generator in Gaza, 2021. Illustrative. (Courtesy)
A Watergen water-from-air generator in Gaza, 2021. Illustrative. (Courtesy)

Israeli water-from-air tech company Watergen has installed one of its water generators at a medical facility in the Syrian province of Raqqa, the former headquarters of terror organization IS, and is set to deliver nine more by the end of 2022, the company told The Times of Israel Tuesday.

The provision of the units is arranged through the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA), an American organization that works to deliver aid to millions of Syrians displaced by the civil war, through faith-based and secular partners.

A 2021 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted that after more than a decade of conflict and devastation, only 50 percent of water and sanitation systems function properly across Syria. ICRC said that water scarcity in Syria’s northeast, including Raqqa where IS set up its de facto capital for its self-proclaimed caliphate, was especially grave. The group inflicted its brutal rule on the area between 2014 and 2017.

Today, water and electricity remain limited in the region, which is rife with poverty and few job prospects.

MFA, seeking water solutions for some four million people internally displaced in northern Syria, reached out to Watergen for its unique offering that can deliver clean, safe drinking water without the need for infrastructure, said Benzi Krespi, a member of Watergen’s sales team.

“We have a range of products and for their needs, we selected the Gen-M Pro, a unit that can make about 900 liters of water every 24 hours. All they would need is an energy source and MFA is currently using solar panels [to power it]. It’s zero-carbon, zero-pollution, and the most sustainable solution,” Krespi said in a phone interview.

A Watergen water-from-air generator installed at a medical facility in Raqqa province, in northeastern Syria, April 2022. (Courtesy)

“They currently have the first two units. The whole project is for 10 units by the end of 2022,” he said, adding that MFA has plans to install the units at schools, medical clinics, and hospitals in the province and its capital, also Raqqa.

“The Watergen generator, powered by solar energy, converts droplets of moisture from the air into clean drinking water,” said MFA Executive Director Shafi Martini in a statement. “The first unit, installed last month in a local medical facility, has been providing fresh drinking water to 500 internally displaced people per day. A second Watergen generator will soon be installed in another medical facility, and MFA plans to set up additional units in hospitals and schools throughout northern Syria.”

Watergen was first founded in 2009, developing patented technology that enables cost-effective, low-energy generation of clean drinking water from air, using a series of filters. After the air is sucked in and chilled to extract its humidity, the water that forms is treated and transformed into clean drinking water. The technology uses a plastic heat exchanger rather than an aluminum one, which helps reduce costs; it also includes proprietary software that operates the devices.

The company, headed by Russian-Israeli billionaire Mikhail Mirilashvili, has a number of products on the market including large- and medium-scale generators that the company says can produce between 220 and 6,000 liters of water per day, depending on the generator, as well as an at-home device that can produce 25-30 liters of water per day. Watergen also developed generators for the automotive market including the Watergen Onboard which can generate up to 50 liters of water per day and can be installed in motorhomes, RVs, caravans, trucks, and buses, and the WaterGen Mobile Box, a portable, lightweight generator that can make up to 20 liters of fresh drinking water a day.

Russian-Israeli businessman Michael Mirilashvili at his offices in the city of Petah Tikva, on November 17, 2020. (Emmanuel Dundand/AFP)

In November, Watergen announced a new partnership with US carmaker Ford to deliver a built-in drinking water generator in the automotive giant’s adventure and recreational vehicles.

“Water is a basic necessity, everyone needs access to safe, clean water,” Krespi said, adding that Watergen works in some 85 countries around the world, based on this idea.

Last year, Watergen embarked on a project in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to provide generators that could produce up to 6,000 liters a day to Palestinians in the enclave who face a chronic water shortage.

A Palestinian man fills a cup of water from a solar-powered water generator that extracts potable water straight from the air donated by Watergen, a company owned by a Russian-Israeli businessman, in the town of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 16, 2020 (Said Khatib/AFP)

Gaza’s overused aquifer has been degraded by saltwater intrusion and contaminated by pollutants, making most available water salty and dangerous to drink and forcing the import of bottled water, AFP reported in January 2021. Only three percent of Gaza’s own water meets international standards, according to the United Nations, which had in 2012 predicted that ecological pressures would have made Gaza “unlivable” by now.

Israel and Egypt tightly control imports to Gaza, to prevent the Hamas terror group that controls the strip from importing weaponry.

Mirilashvili bought Watergen after moving to Israel in 2009. The company CEO and president has a colorful personal history, including time spent in a Russian prison following a kidnapping conviction in a trial the European Court of Justice later found was flawed.

A religious Jew with a picture of a prominent Orthodox rabbi on his office wall, Mirilashvili told AFP that when he learned about Gaza’s water crisis, he immediately wanted to help.

“Our goal was that everyone on Earth could be supplied with drinkable water… It was immediately clear that we had to help our neighbors first,” he said.

School children walk past destroyed buildings in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, on October 14, 2018. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

In Syria, Mirilashvili said Watergen was “proud to participate in this life-saving initiative to improve the safety, health, and welfare of the region. Throughout history, conflicts have often been centered around controlling water sources. Today we are doing the opposite: building peace and a common future around a groundbreaking Israeli technology.”

In 2020, Watergen inked a deal with Emirati firm Al Dahra to export the Israeli solutions to the UAE and other regional countries.

Watergen has offices in Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the US, Russia, China, and India.

AFP contributed to this report.

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