As Indian municipal officials and water engineers search for ways to provide cleaner water to their nation’s 1.2 billion people, they are increasingly turning to Israel. (NYT)
TEL AVIV – As Indian municipal officials and water engineers search for ways to provide cleaner water to their nation’s 1.2 billion people, they are increasingly turning to Israel, which has solved many of the same problems that India is now experiencing.
Last week, a delegation of 16 high-ranking Indian officials of the water authorities of Rajasthan, Karnataka, Goa and Haryana arrived in Israel for a seven-day visit. They visited wastewater treatment plants, met with some of Israel’s leading environmentalists and agronomists and listened to explanations of some of the newest technologies that keep this desert country green.
“In India, we have a major crisis of water,” said Rajeev Jain, an assistant engineer in the water department of Rajasthan. “Our problem is the same that Israel faced,” he said, noting that Rajasthan, home to 63 million people, has a similar climate and groundwater resources that are meager at best.
“But Israel is an expert at successfully implementing technologies that we aren’t able to implement. So we have come here to understand which technologies they use and how they manage these things.”
The visit was jointly arranged by the governments of India and Israel and managed by the Weitz Center for Development Studies and Israel NewTech, the national sustainable water and energy program of Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.
Israel has been a global leader in the fields of drip irrigation and desalination, two ventures for which it has contributed groundbreaking technology. These technologies helped the country of eight million pull itself out of a severe water crisis in the early 2000s.
While Israel’s primary investments in India remain in the realm of diamonds and information technology, more and more shekels are being invested in Indian water systems.
The two countries began working with each other on water technology in the late 1990s. In 2006, Israeli and Indian ministers of agriculture signed a long-term cooperation and training deal, which has since been supervised by field experts from Mashav, an international development program of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Next came a $50 million shared agriculture fund between both nations, focusing on dairy, farming technology and micro-irrigation. And Netafim, the Israeli company that pioneered drip irrigation, has created new technologies in Jharkhand specifically calibrated for the small family farms scattered across India.
In 2011, India and Israel signed an agreement to foster cooperation on urban water systems, which came after more than a decade of joint research, development and shared investment in the countries’ respective water technologies.
Israeli officials and green technology specialists saw last week’s visit as a preview to the influx of Indian officials they expect in October for the country’s annual conferenceon water technology and environmental control.
Oded Distel, director of NewTech, said the most significant lesson Israel can teach India is the Middle Eastern country’s unique approach. “It’s a system that balances the demand and available resources among the various sectors: municipal, industrial and agricultural,” he said.
Several delegates said they were shocked to learn how expensive water is in Israel and how all citizens, regardless of income or geographic region, must pay uniform tariffs and fees for the clean drinking water that flows into their taps.
It would be nearly impossible to adopt a similar model in India, Mr. Jain said. In India, much of the water generated by cities is illegally siphoned off by residents or lost to leaks, and in rural areas, most farmers get their water at no cost.
“In India, they consider water a gift from God. And everything God has given, no one can charge for it,” he said. “It is not easy to frame new policies, because we have to go to our assembly and Parliament first.”
But he said he was optimistic that some of the Israeli techniques for salvaging wastewater could be transferred to his home region. “In India, there are a lot of unauthorized connections to the water system, so maybe we can learn how to control the wastewater out of these connections,” he said.
On June 5, the group traveled to Kibbutz Naan, a cooperative community that is the largest in Israel, to see the manufacturing operations for NaanDanJain Irrigation, the world’s foremost irrigation solutions company. It is also a joint venture of Kibbutz Naan, another Israeli kibbutz called Kibbutz Dan and Jain Irrigations Systems of India.
Over a vegetarian lunch in the kibbutz cafeteria, where the tables were festooned with the flags of India and Israel, Sarban Singh, an Indian delegate from Haryana, said that last year he visited Singapore to learn about water technology and that he and his colleagues were also closely following innovations in Japan and Germany.
The water sector in Israel, he said, was nevertheless the most important to him and other Indian officials.
“This is what we feel,” he said. “The way they are able to take care of these two areas, drinking water and treatment of wastewater — they are soldiers and pioneers.”
For Mr. Singh, the most eye-opening technology that he saw during his time in Israel involved optimizing systems so that water can be provided at all times, which requires clean and secure reservoirs; tracking the liquid’s distribution into homes; and adding state-of-the-art water sensors on piping systems to pinpoint exactly where the precious resource is being lost.
Mr. Singh was quick to add, however, that between inspiration and implementation, many hurdles would present themselves in India.
“They are doing this on a very small scale, while we are doing it on a very large scale,” he said. “So even if we have the technology, we may not be as successful as they are. We welcome the technology, but before we can implement it, we have to see how much the manufacturing will cost and how much it benefits us at home.”