Israel's agriculture and finance ministries formally declared a drought in large parts of the south on 2 June, a move which will trigger compensation payments to farmers.
However, Hila Be'eri, the Agriculture Ministry’s assistant spokesperson, said the decision would not affect prices of fresh produce or the water rations allocated to farming for 2010. The drought-stricken areas in the south produce mainly wheat, according to the Ministry.
After five consecutive dry winters, Israel's main fresh water source, Lake Tiberias (also known as Lake Kinneret and the Sea of Galilee, and which is fed by the River Tiberias, in turn fed by the River Jordan and several other small streams from the Golan Heights), is at a dangerously low level.
According to water authority data, only 80-85 percent of the average annual rainfall was recorded in 2009 in the Lake Tiberias area. In January the lake’s water level fell to a record low, and as of 3 June it was only 0.34 metres above the level at which pumping must be stopped.
According to a recent report entitled Rising Temperatures, Rising Tensions: Climate change and the risk of violent conflict in the Middle East, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the River Jordan could shrink by up to 80 percent by the end of the century. It warned that water supplies may “severely decrease”, falling by 60 percent of 2000 levels by 2100.
Israel has launched a national water saving campaign, which has included restrictions on the watering of private gardens, and in recent years some Israeli farmers have switched to using treated sewage water instead of fresh water, according to the Israeli water authority.
Israel is planning to build more desalination plants
Israel has three desalination plants - in Eilat, Ashkelon and Palmakhim - supplying some 150 million cubic metres of drinking water per year. Six further plants are planned to be operational by 2012, supplying 300 million cubic meters, nearly half of all current household consumption.
However, in May 2008 the Environmental Protection Ministry warned that desalination plans were insufficient and that other measures should be considered.
Some experts see desalination plants as the only viable solution in a country severely lacking in fresh water sources and with a current population of 7.37 million.
Others have pointed to the negative environmental impact of such plants.
The IISD report predicted that by 2020 water shortages would be the norm, with water requirements projected to be 130 percent of renewable supplies for Israelis.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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