Israel is suffering from a water crisis and immediate steps must be taken to resolve the problem, Uri Shani, the head of Israel's Water Authority, told the cabinet on 13 April. He said there was a gap between supply and demand that needed to be closed.
Over the next five years, the country would be below the "red lines" at all water sources, and there would be a need to significantly increase the amount of water produced by desalination, he said.
The government recently issued a tender for bids to build a new desalination plant to produce 100 million cubic metres of water a year. Officials told IRIN this was only one of several new plants to be constructed in the coming years.
However, some experts say desalination is only part of a wider change needed.
The Israeli Union for Environmental Defence (IUED), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said it might go to the courts to force the state to invest more in conservation, as it promised to do in 2003.
"We are not opposed to desalination, but only as part of a wider plan," Aviad Oren, a spokesman for the group, told IRIN, noting that desalination was energy intensive and that, if fossil fuels were used, greenhouse gases would be produced.
"We need to save more water, and clean polluted water sources," he said.
Currently, government advertisements are being run on radio stations, urging citizens to cut back on water use and proposing ways to do so, such as using water-saving toilets.
Eli Ronen, head of the national water company, Mekorot, recently said that while Minister of Infrastructure Binyamin Ben Eliezer was banking on desalination to solve the problems, conservation remained crucial to cutting current water use by 10 percent nationwide.
Eliezer said four years of drought in Israel followed by an "extreme drought" in the last year was a "rare circumstance, happening once in 100 years" and he blamed climate change for the problem. He said technology, particularly desalination, remained the key to solving the crisis.
Mekorot has also announced plans to change the way it handles waste water in the greater Tel Aviv area, the most populated part of the country, which generates about a third of the country's waste water. It aims to treat more water which can be reused for agriculture, while also ensuring that the ever-growing amount of sewage in the area gets treated and is not dumped into the sea.
|We need a multi-level solution, including conservation and changes in use in the agriculture sector.|
Dani Sofer, a manager at Mekorot, told IRIN that while desalination had negative environmental side-effects, there was "no choice" but to include such plants in long-term planning.
"We need a multi-level solution, including conservation and changes in use in the agriculture sector," he said. "The last part of the solution is desalination plants, in part because it will take several years to be fully realised."
The agricultural sector has had to uproot dozens of hectares of apple trees because they consume too much water, and it is expecting to have subsidies reduced.
The Water Authority has proposed changes in pricing to make water cheaper for those who use it sparingly and more expensive for those using large amounts.
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