Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World
By Seth M. Siegel
Thomas Donne Books
Seth Siegel is a lawyer, entrepreneur and writer who became fascinated with how Israel used innovative technology and imaginative management to overcome chronic water shortage. Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World represents the distillation of hundreds of interviews about Israel’s water problems and the slow but steady routes to their resolution. It shows how Israel became a global water superpower, something not previously thought conceivable in the Middle East.
The text is presented in four parts reflecting different time periods in Israel’s development as a nation, and different perspectives on water development: “The Creation of a Water-Focused Nation”; “The Transformation”; “The World Beyond Israel’s Borders”; and “How Israel Did It.”
Bracketing the four sections is an introductory chapter on the global water situation and a final chapter entitled, “Guiding Philosophy.” Each chapter is full of information about a particular shift in water management or about a particular water technology that was needed to change Israel from a water-deficit nation to a water-surplus one. The book is well organized and well written – probably better so than any previous book on Israel’s water history.
However, the book may be too detailed for someone who wants an overview, yet too narrowly focused on technology for someone who wants to know “why” rather than just “how.” Both domestic and regional politics are neglected in favour of the creation and development of technology. True, Israel has a superb record in taking technological opportunities and transforming them into commercial realities. However, the availability of technology is just the opportunity; it is politics (in the broadest sense) that determines when and where the technology will be used.
Lack of attention to international politics is particularly evident in the chapter, “Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians: Finding a Regional Water Solution.” No doubt, there are many technologies that can help these three nations move toward resolution of the use of their interconnected waterways. However, is there any point in proposing technical improvements in water efficiency to the Palestinians so long as Israel has its hand firmly on all the pumps and valves and Annex Two of the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty provides for the division of the flow of the Jordan River without even mentioning the Palestinians?
Politics also play a big role. Siegel is correct to emphasize the importance of drip irrigation and improved pricing of water to greater efficiency in Israeli agriculture. However, drip irrigation was not discovered in Israel; among other places, it was commonly used by Incan farmers when Europeans first came upon them.
But it was Israeli scientists who found ways to overcome its technical limitations and then Israeli farmers who adapted “drip” to their large but thirsty farms. However, large-scale transition to drip agriculture might have come a decade – possibly two decades – earlier had not the cost of irrigation water been so heavily subsidized and had not what was then called the Office of the Water Commission been kept in the Ministry of Agriculture for many years after agricultural production was no longer a significant part of the Israeli economy.
Siegel has written a useful book, but not one that is nearly as useful as it could have been. Too much of the information comes from interviews and too little from professional literature, and each of the chapters must be integrated with Israeli and regional political information for the full story to emerge.
David B. Brooks, a natural resource economist, is co-author of a draft water agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.