An in-depth analysis (also featured by the JNF) of the reasons for the success of Israel’s unique water industry, by Oded Distel:
It seems that everywhere you look these days, the U.S. has “discovered” Israel’s water industry, which was featured in a New York Times cover article recently, and in countless publications. This is, of course, due to the severe drought in California. Environmental changes and issues in water management have brought about a situation in which there is simply not enough water in some areas in the U.S., and the situation is becoming dire.
Why is Israel drawing so much attention? Simply because Israel is perhaps the only country in the world to have basically solved a severe water shortage problem. Despite the dry, desert climate, today Israel finally has enough water for all its needs. Morever Israel is ready to face years of relatively low rainfall and drought if the need arises, and knows that it will have enough water.
How was this accomplished? Many people will automatically attribute this success to Israel’s innovative “start-up nation” culture. It’s true that Israel is home to a disproportionate number of innovative start-ups in the water arena (as in the fields of ICT, energy, medical devices and so on), but to truly understand how Israel was able to reach this level of water security, we have to dig deeper into the nation’s history and culture.
An Israeli friend of mine, who was living in California for a couple of years, once told me how shocked he was to hear his daughter come home from kindergarden singing “Rain rain go away, come again another day.” In Israel we are all raised on nursery rhymes which welcome rain with open arms. We also all remember our parents telling us to close the faucet when we brush our teeth and take short showers. Water was always scarce, and water conservation was part of the country’s ethos from day one.
Another reason for the success of Israel’s water industry is also deeply rooted. Israel was founded on socialist “kibbutz” ideology, in which the state controls natural resources, among other things. In 1959 Israel passed the Water Law, which proclaimed all water a property of the state. Theoretically if you place a bucket outside your home in Israel and it fills with rainwater, this is government property. This probably sounds unpleasant to American ears, as the U.S.traditionally places a higher value on the individual and avoids central government control as much as possible, but in effect this central control enabled Israel to create an effective, centralized water system, led by the national Water Authority.
I’ve often heard people from the U.S., Asia and Latin America say that “Water is God’s gift to mankind.” This is perhaps romantic, but detrimental to water conservation. We have to accept that water has a monetary value. When this is the perception, then water can be charged for, and there is incentive to conserve, measure and manage. The world needs to change their perspective on the essence of water, if it is to overcome the global changes underway in the world’s water supply. California is a major wake up call, and there will surely be others in different parts of the world.
So now we arrive at the situation today. Not only is Israel’s water industry able to securely provide for the water needs of its population (an impressive feat for such a dry country!), but Israel’s water companies export solutions and technologies all over the world. Israel’s successful hi-tech culture has merged with the country’s mature water industry to create some fascinating combinations. Monitoring, big data, sensor technology, water reclamation for agriculture, measurement and control of urban water systems and more…these are all areas with a vibrant Israeli start-up scene. They also all merge Israeli hi-tech skill and ingenuity, and bring it to the water industry.
Some of Israel’s most interesting start-ups are those that merge Israeli expertise in hi-tech with water. For example, there are a number of companies, such as TaKaDu, Ayyeka and others, which use software to measure and analyze data at various points in the water supply chain. Knowledge – through measurement – is an important first step to improved water management and conservation. Israel’s mature water industry, led by companies like drip irrigation pioneer Netafim which has been active for 50 years, has in the past few years received a boost of fresh energy from talented people who come from other advanced disciplines and bring their perspective to the water sector. So many areas in which Israeli research excels – cyber security, nanotechnology, even military or medical devices – can become relevant for the water arena. This merging of disciplines and fields is likely to continue into the future and bring us more exciting innovations from Israel.
At Israel NewTech we’re happy to play a role in the success of Israel’s water industry. The program was founded in 2006, when the Israeli government identified water as an industry with high potential for export. We work every day to bring Israeli companies and technologies to global markets. We have also invested a lot of thought into identifying – even creating – new markets for Israeli companies. Basically today we understand that ‘water is in everything,’ and we need to look beyond water utilities. More efficient use of water can be a game changer in a number of industries, saving operational costs dramatically and helping companies meet regulations. We have opened the doors to numerous Israeli companies in industries like oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, food & beverage and more.
So the next time you read about an Israeli water startup winning an innovation award, or closing a major contract…know that today’s innovation is based on a rich history of water conservation and management.