How Israel can help Egypt Avoid a Water Crisis of Biblical Proportions

An Open Letter to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

Dear President Sisi:

Egypt’s annual water supply has dropped dramatically in the last 70 years. The United Nations predicts that by 2025, your country will approach a state of “absolute water crisis.” Egypt has 660 cubic meters of water per person, one of the lowest per capita shares in the world. This number is downfrom 2,500 cubic meters in 1947. And with the population expected to double in the next 50 years, the picture looks especially bleak.

You are headed towards what might be described as a disaster of biblical proportions.

The time has come to exercise bold leadership and reach out to Israel, which has achieved complete water independence through smart planning and innovative thinking. Since its founding in 1948, Israel has increased its population tenfold, its agricultural production sixteenfold, and its industrial production fiftyfold – all while reducing its net water consumption by 10 percent.

Israel, perhaps the world’s only water superpower, has the capability and interest to provide your country with massive assistance. Israel has a water surplus and unlike every other country in the world, produces the majority of its water from non-potable and man-made sources.

From time immemorial, the Nile River has been the main source of potable water for your people, and it provides two-thirds of your country’s water supply. Sadly, Egyptian water authorities are not using resources efficiently: Egypt recycles only a small percentage of agricultural drainage water and ground water, and you are hardly recycling any wastewater or desalinizing saltwater.

But this isn’t the only water challenge you are facing.

Ethiopia has started building the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. You have repeatedly expressed your concern that this dam will affect your country’s share of Nile water, even though Ethiopia insists this won’t happen.

And just as troubling, 80 percent of your water is being consumed by agriculture, not human beings.

Just across the border to your east, Israel has met this challenge. The Startup Nation no longer relies on the weather or on its neighbors for its water needs. It achieved this independence by combining all available technologies to save as much water as possible — by desalinizing sea water, reusing treated sewage for agriculture, creating software that warns authorities about leaks, implementing drip-irrigation techniques, and accounting for every drop of water. Some of the techniques Israel uses today were developed at home, others abroad.

This year, Israel’s fifth desalinization plant will go online. Collectively, the desalinization plants provide about 600 million cubic meters of water annually. Much of the credit for the plants goes to IDE technologies, an Israeli desalinization company established in 1965, which has built 400 plants in 40 countries over the last four decades.

Israel purifies almost 90 percent of its wastewater and uses it in irrigation — four times more than any other country. Spain, which is second, recycles only about 20 percent. In other words, human waste is now potentially extraordinarily valuable.

In addition, Israel’s Netafim invented and now mass-produces the world’s first modern drip irrigator, which helps farmers, cooperatives and governments conserve more water. Netafim is a global powerhouse, with more than 30 percent of the global drip-irrigation market, and sells its products in more than 110 countries.

But perhaps above all, Israel’s success with water is directly tied to charging users the real cost of water and mandating that authorities spend 100 percent of all water and sewage fees on water-related infrastructure maintenance.

Israel’s water technology is being used in over 150 countries (including some that have no formal ties with the Jewish state). For example, IDE designed and built the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalinization plant in Carlsbad, California, along with the largest desalinization plants in China and India. Your country has a long and intertwined history with Israel and with the Jewish people. The Bible and the Qur’an recount many stories of the Israelites’ finding refuge in Egypt because of famine and water scarcity. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and Israel is in a position to offer an outstretched arm to assist your people.

Egypt and Israel have not always had the best of relations — some periods have been rockier than others. But your country and Israel have been at peace since 1979 and you will always be neighbors, and I daresay, family. The fate of the Jewish people and Egypt have been tied for the last three millennia, and so, too, is our future. Israel can help you avert this approaching water calamity. If this crisis is not addressed quickly it will surely take the lives of many of your citizens. But you must move swiftly and with purpose. You don’t have time or even a drop to waste.