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Tower Interview with Avi Jorisch, Author of Thou Shalt Innovate

Earlier today we published the chapter from Avi Jorisch’s recently published book Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World about Simcha Blass, Kibbutz Chatzerim,  Rafi Mehoudar, and Netafim and the water revolution they sparked. Jorisch agreed to a brief interview with The Tower to provide further insight into this technology that could spare millions from thirst and starvation.

How does Israel’s water technology sophistication help diplomatically, esp. with Africa, India?

Let me start by pointing out that Israel is no longer reliant on the weather or on its neighbors for its water needs. It achieved this by combining all available technologies to save as much water as possible. While the country is 60 percent desert, in 2013 it announced it had achieved water independence through smart planning and innovative thinking: desalinizing sea water, reusing treated sewage for agriculture, creating software that warns authorities about leaks, implementing drip irrigation techniques and accounting for every drop of water. Some of the techniques Israel uses today were developed at home, others abroad.

But perhaps above all, the secret of Israel’s success in becoming a water superpower is directly tied to charging users the real cost of water and mandating that authorities spend 100 percent of all water and sewage fees on water-related infrastructure maintenance.

Israel’s water technology is now being used in over 150 countries – including some that have no formal ties with the Jewish state. For example, IDE has built the largest desalinization plants in China and India. Amazing organizations like Innovation: Africa have brought Israeli water technology to remote African villages. And Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation have also proliferated Israeli water technological innovations around the developing world.

Could Israeli water technology be a key to peaceful coexistence in the Middle East?

Absolutely. As we look around the Middle East, the region is headed towards massive water shortages, and in some places it will likely lead to disasters of biblical proportions. The United Nations predicts that by 2025, Egypt will approach a state of “absolute water crisis.” Jordan is also set to run out of potable water in the coming decades. Iranian government officials predict that in less than 25 years, over half the population of Iran will need to be relocated and become effectively water refugees. In Iraq, engineers are warning that the Mosul Dam could literally collapse at any minute killing 1.5 million people. The picture looks especially bleak.

But with Israel having figured out a way to leverage technology to improve the lives of billions of people, if the world is able to put current politics aside and turn over a new leaf, it will most certainly look to Israel and its innovators to help curb the tide on this emerging threat. I predict that in the coming decades the way people perceive Israel will change dramatically. I believe it will come to be seen as a fountain of knowledge when it comes to solving global challenges, including, of course, water.

Has Israel solved all of its water problems? This year there were reports about how low the Kinneret was. Does that represent a problem with the water supply, or is that more of an ecological/environmental problem?

Israel has solved its population’s needs for water consumption. But ecological and environmental challenges beckon to be addressed, not only in Israel but globally.

Other than Netafim, what are some of the other players in the field that we might hear about?

Two examples come immediately to mind. Takadu is an amazing platform that marries big data and the cloud to monitor water networks in order to prevent leaks. Founded by Amir Peleg, Takadu gives cities, municipalities, and countries the capability to check their water infrastructure and detect leaks and burst pipes, saving millions of gallons of water.

Hydrospin is another wonderful innovation created by Danny Peleg. Picture a small rotating internal water wheel that turns within a water pipe in order to generate an electrical current – a perpetual source of clean energy!

Final question: are you optimistic about humanity’s future when it comes to the looming water crisis and Israel’s role in solving it?

I am overall very optimistic. Many parts of the world have started to address their water shortages with Israeli help, while others have been slower to come around. Israel has created a powerful blueprint that, if followed, can help assuage, if not outright solve, the world’s unquenchable thirst for water.

There are places like South Africa that have refused Israeli assistance to solve their water problem – even as they hurdle towards what is being dubbed ‘Day Zero’.

By May 2018, Cape Town’s four million residents will have their water supplies cut off unless the city reduces daily consumption by twenty percent. Cape Town appears to be the first major city in the world to run out of water. Sadly, South Africa has boycotted Israel’s offer to assist out of solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

But even the Palestinian authority accepts Israeli assistance on its water projects. And many governments have put aside the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and are leveraging Israeli technology in an effort to give their people the chance to live. Take for example Netafim’s drip irrigation technology, which can be found all over the world, including throughout the Arab world.

For its part, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that over the next 10 years, 40 out of 50 states will have at least one region with a water shortage because of a lack of fresh water in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and aquifers. And by 2022, 42 million Americans will be unable to pay their water bills, as the cost of water increases because of poor infrastructure. But states like California have started to address this problem head on.

In 2014, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and California Governor Jerry Brown signed a monumental agreement that would take Israeli water technology and transfer it to mitigate the Golden State’s water crisis. At the time, the U.S. government reported that 74 percent of the state, the largest in the country, was dealing with extreme drought.

“California, I hear, has a big water problem,” said Netanyahu after the signing. “We in Israel don’t have a water problem. We use technology to solve it.” Israel’s IDE, a global water company, has now designed and built the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalinization plant in Carlsbad, California.

As the world continues to experience massive water scarcity, inevitably people and governments around the world will increasingly look for innovators who can help. Humanity will have to find creative ways to use water resources, which are already under heavy stress. “Water isn’t just water,” as my colleague Seth M. Siegel, water expert and author of Let There Be Water, likes to point out. “In the case of Israel, it’s also an inspiring example of how vision and leadership can change a nation and transform the world.”