Panama is a tropical country, and what would a tropical country want with water saving technologies? Professor Eilon Adar, hydrologist at Ben-Gurion University’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, who recently accompanied a delegation of decision-makers from Panama’s water sector on a visit to Israel, explains: “Since Panama was always rich in water, it was never treated as a valuable resource. But this approach has actually brought the country to a water shortage, because of poor national infrastructure and management. One example is Panama’s two huge canals, for which the country is known. Every ship that passes through the canals uses 50 million gallons of freshwater! This is an additional strain on the country’s water supply.”
The delegation included leading decision makers in Panama’s water sector: Mirei Endara De Heras, Ministor of Environment, Roberto Meana Melendez, Director of the National Authority of Public Services of Panama, and others. The visit was organized by The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the support of Israel NewTech and the Israel Export Institute.
Professor Adar explains that water management in Panama is very localized, at most regional, with no centralized control. The visiting delegation was impressed by the way management of Israel’s water is under the control of the National Water Authority. Professor Adar led the delegation to a visit of the National Water Carrier. “The delegation members were very impressed by the way in which Israel’s centralized control of the water system enables water savings and ensures a consistently high quality of the water. There are the first steps of creating something similar in Panama,” explains Professor Adar.
Another area of interest for the delegation is water reclamation, treatment and purification, an arena where Isreal excels and is recognized the world-over. The visit included a tour of Israel’s southern region, and demonstrations of the use of reclaimed water for unlimited agricultural irrigation. “The Panamanians were pleasantly surprised to learn that Israel’s farmers often actually prefer to use reclaimed water,” explains Professor Adar. “Even though this water has a slightly higher level of salinity, it also includes more nutrients, that are beneficial in agriculture. In addition, the fact that this water is cheaper than fresh water what makes it economically attractive to farmers.”
Because Panama is only now beginning to put a focus on water technologies, there is a shortage of skilled manpower in this field in the country. Israel can provide real guidance in this arena, and actually Panams’s first student has already been accepted for the coming academic year in Ben Gurion University, in a direct to PhD path, studying hydrology and water quality.
The visit included a seminar in which a number of Israeli water technology companies presented, including IDE, Curapipe, Mapal Clean Energy, Odis, CleaRivers and others. Following the visit, a cooperation MOU between the two countries is now in progress, and will likely be signed soon
“Israel really is a “light onto nations’ in the water arena, and Panama is just such an example,” concludes Professor Adar. “I’m hopeful that the seeds we sowed in this visit will translate into real business in Panama for Israeli water technology companies.” As more and more countries in the world deal with the new challenge of water management, due to factors like growing populations and climate change, they often look to Israel as a proven success story in the water arena, creating an opportunity for Israel’s water sector to grow internationally.