Between 1998 and 2012, the Eastern Mediterranean region suffered through the worst drought in at least 900 years. This drought contributed to the rapid rise of the Arab Spring and fueled civil war in Syria. Facing the prospect of running out of water, Israel implemented a program of water conservation and recycling. However, its most dramatic change came from widespread adoption of cutting-edge desalinization technology – including a shift away from chemicals that utilizes volcanic rock to filter desalinated water.
Desalinization, potentially powered by solar panels, seems to be the holy grail for sun abundant, freshwater scarce, coastal locations. Previous desalinization methods had proved to be inefficient. Salt is separated from water by a filter membrane, which accumulates salt and the many microorganisms that reside in the ocean. These plankton and friends quickly make themselves at home and occupy the pores in the filter membrane, clogging the system. To solve this problem, Edo Bar-Zeev, researcher at Israel’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, helped to develop a new chemical-free system that utilizes porous volcanic rock to capture microorganisms before they reach the filter. Today, Israel receives 55 percent of its domestic water from desalinization sources.
Bar-Zeev hopes that this new technology might prove helpful for Israel’s neighbors, despite historic conflict. “I believe water can be a bridge, through joint ventures,” he says. “And one of those ventures is desalination.” Bar-Zeev anticipates positive results from the Water Knows No Boundaries conference in 2018, when water scientists from Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza will meet to discuss how the region can better meet its water needs in the climate chaos to come.
The obstacles that restrict water in the region are not likely to be solved by technology alone. The illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza continues to deny Palestinians access to water, which is used as a political tool to control the occupied population. In Gaza, most of the water infrastructure was destroyed in 2012 by the Israeli Defense Force and has not been replaced. Bar-Zeev hopes that Israel’s new abundance of water may depoliticize the resource and allow its free flow to those who need it. The outcome of the upcoming Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal, a $900 million collaborative project between Israel and Jordan that would share water between the two countries and the West Bank, may offer some hints as to whether a new water peace in the Middle East is possible.