Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World by Seth M. Siegel, Thomas Press India Ltd, 2015, ISBN 978-1-250-12959-8, 337 pp, price- 699 Rupees
Heena Samant, Research Associate, VIF

Israel, a small country on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, is a land of many innovations. It has emerged as a leader in the field of technology and has been described as the “start-up” nation of the world. However, another domain where it has taken precedence is in the area of “water security”. Water crisis of today is not just restricted to the less-developed nations but is also very much prevalent amongst the developed world, while the world has entered into a prolonged water crisis, Israel, despite its challenging climate has set an example in front of the world on how to become water secure through its innovations and long-term planning. The book titled “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution For a Water-Starved World” aims to proffer as to how a small country such as Israel developed sophisticated approach to water. It gives prominence to long-term water planning and technological solutions which have been pivotal to the country at every stage of its development. Although what the country has done in terms of making itself water secure may not be of relevance across the world, the book, advocates that Israel can still help to transform the water governance system of every country regardless of their geography and affluence. Authored by Seth M. Siegel, a Senior Fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Water Policy and also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the book was originally published in 2015. Mr. Siegel is also a lawyer, activist, serial entrepreneur, and an acclaimed public speaker. The book is divided into four sections namely Section I: The Creation of a Water-Focused Nation, Section II: The Transformation, Section III: The World beyond Israel’s Borders, and Section IV: How Israel did it. In all, there are 12 chapters in the book.

There are three chapters in section I and as the theme suggests, these chapters examine how Israel became a water-focussed nation since its inception. The author gives details about the country’s water culture, its water laws and regulations, its water infrastructure, and its water management system. Moving forward the author accounts for Israel as a country that has a water respecting culture which means that there is a general consciousness about the need to respect water. Additionally, all water ownership and usage are controlled by the government acting in the interest of people as a whole. The country also runs on strong water laws which support government ownership of water. In fact, there is mention of three important water laws which was passed by Israel’s parliament in the mid-1950s. These laws led to a state-controlled, centrally planned approach to water. In terms of infrastructure, Israel has succeeded in developing the ‘National Water Carrier’, an ambitious project which brought water from the north of the country to the South. Important points which the author has drawn attention to under the umbrella of this theme is about how Israel succeeded in creating an apolitical water management system, a water pricing system where everyone had to pay the real price for the water they were using, and also in reducing municipal water leaks.

Section II of the book looks at the technological innovations made by Israel such as drip-irrigation, treatment of its sewage at a large-scale, and desalination. The author has also dedicated a chapter on the renewal of surface water such as rivers of the country. Drip irrigation practices are a norm in Israel with 75% of irrigated land using this technique. Similarly, the technique of desalination has entirely transformed the water profile of Israel whose effects have been felt throughout the country. Additionally, treatment of sewage holds prominence in Israel with 95% of its sewage being treated. Aside from these facts and information, the author also makes interesting arguments under this theme. For instance, the author argues that for Israel, its sewage is seen as a treasured ‘national resource’. It is seen as a reliable resource as it does not depend upon the unpredictability of the climate and rainfall. Another argument put forward by the author is about how Israel has gotten ahead of the impacts of climate change. In chapter six, titled Desalination: Science, Engineering, and Alchemy, the author quotes Mr. Shimon Tal, a former head of Israel Water Commission, who says “It isn’t just desalination, but with all of this new desalinated water added to everything else we are doing, we are mostly immune from adverse weatherconditions. Israel now can withstand even a long drought.”

Section III of the book is titled as “The World Beyond Israel’s Borders”. The four chapters in it entails how Israel’s research and development skills and its entrepreneurial mind-set has led to its major companies such as TAHAL and IDE (Israel Desalination Engineering) to become major industries in global water industry and how the country has used its surplus water resource, its experiences and technology, to develop or enhance relations with other countries. Under this particular theme, the author also suggests as to how Israel being a water superpower has the potential to change the regional dynamics. The author is very optimistic and argues that the Middle Eastern region’s water needs is bound to grow and self-interested necessity might well drive the regional parties together hinting at a positive change in the regional dynamics. In fact, Mr. Siegel also contends that although Israel’s overseas water projects have taken place in the economically distressed locations, many Israeli water-technology companies now do business around the world providing water solutions in wealthy countries as well.

Section IV of the book, as the name suggests is a ‘guiding philosophy’ of how Israel went from scarcity of water and fear of drought to abundance and independence from climate conditions. In chapter 12, the author writes that for Israel to reach where it has today, in terms of having surplus water, a cadre of brilliant engineers, scientists, and policy makers helped Israel develop water related expertise, technology, and infrastructure. Mr. Siegel also emphasized that the combination of the above-mentioned efforts has led to the establishment of a ‘pragmatic water philosophy’ to guide the way for those who would follow.

Technological Innovations and Efforts

The author through this book has demonstrated as to how the use of technology and long-term planning can help solve one of the most pressing challenges of our times. Most importantly, the author urges the rest of the world to follow these best practices. In fact, in chapter four, the author quotes Naty Barak, who at the time the book was written was Netafim’s, a global leader in irrigation solutions for sustainable agriculture, chief sustainability officer. Mr. Barak said that “the world should think of Israel as a laboratory, but also as an inspiration. If we can do it out here, in the middle of a desert, anyone can do it.” Israel is way of ahead of its time when it comes to its water profile. The author has very correctly brought out the point of how water is often included by many countries in their short-term planning. However, Israel’s case study has proven to be otherwise. Water, as a subject, requires long-term planning and investments. In fact, one of the most striking points made by Mr. Siegel is that with Israel’s water supply being assured, it is unlikely that any combination of war, embargo, or drought would lead to food insecurity in the country. A significant point worth noting for the rest of the world, as today, the world is facing the worst food crisis in its history due to the war in Ukraine. The war is a reality check for the rest of the world to become self-sufficient in agricultural production. If Israel a water starved nation can do it, then any country can. Additionally, Mr. Siegel argues that a distinct feature about Israel’s water planning and management system is that although the country has invented many of the solutions to tackle water problems, what sets it apart is the extent to which it has adopted these techniques. No state has prioritized water as has Israel and the book is an excellent account of that. Technological innovations coupled with other efforts have led Israel to become the “water superpower” of the world.

This book, however, would have been strengthened by including maps in the chapters where it was needed for a better understanding of the location of the country’s water resources. Although, the author has included two maps in the beginning of the book with one being the map about Israel and its neighbours while the other provides information about the country’s water infrastructure. In order to maintain the flow of the readers, it is important that these maps should have been included in the required chapters. For instance, chapter two of the book which deals with the “National Water Carrier” infrastructure project of Israel is where the map showing the water infrastructure of the country should have been placed. Additionally, since the author has been factual in his approach towards writing the book, at some point, too many of these facts and information seems unnecessary and this could in turn become overwhelming for many readers.

This apart, the book takes the reader to a journey of how a state as dry as that of Israel can become a water-abundance country through technology and innovation. The book is a hope for a water-stressed world.

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