Water technology: Israel can help SA

  • 9c-Arthur Lenk
A lot of co-operation over water is currently taking place between SA and Israel says Israel's Ambassador Arthur Lenk, pictured. Last month many SA officials and private-sector industry leaders visited Tel Aviv to take part in the annual WATEC conference and exhibition; farms throughout the country, from small emerging enterprises to large-scale producers are using the Netafim drip irrigation system, so much so that the company has opened a factory near Cape Town and even exports the products; and discussions on desalinisation of seawater have been ongoing with both the private and the public sector. A fascinating read...
by ANT KATZ | Nov 17, 2015

ABOVE: Tommy van Zyl talks about ZZ2 – South Africa’s largest tomato producers - and how their family business has found that the Israeli technology and SA-manufactured Netafim drip irrigation system works perfectly for them.  Many of their seeds are sourced in Israel too.

Israel's Ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk, opened a dialogue last week by suggesting SA should be fully investigating ideas for increasing the country’s water supply. “South Africa can learn from Israel,” he wrote in a widely-published op-ed: “Water lessons from an arid country”.

Israel, says Lenk, “has not merely preserved water - but increased supply by desalination and recycling”.

Jewish Report interviewed the ambassador this week to find out more – and was pleasantly surprised to hear of the projects already being shared between the two countries – and how large the scope is for further co-operation.

A surprising amount of co-operation is currently taking place between SA and Israel with regard to water technology:

  • Last month many SA officials and private-sector industry leaders visited Tel Aviv to take part in the annual WATEC conference and exhibition;
  • Farms throughout the country, from small emerging enterprises to large-scale producers, are using the Netafim drip irrigation system, so much so that the company has opened a factory near Cape Town and even exports the products;
  • Discussions on desalinisation of seawater have been ongoing with both the private and the public sector;
  • Ambassador Lenk believes SA could learn from his own country how to "make"water.

'Enormous water challenges'

“Finally, the headlines here in South Africa are beginning to cover the enormous water challenges this country faces,” he says, “I believe that ideas for increasing supply should be fully investigated.” He says he perceives a “growing awareness of the dangers approaching South Africa as a dry country with water needs that impact every aspect of its development.

“It is clear that there is a need for developing short- and long-term planning to tackle this issue, and lessons from other arid countries could offer valuable input,” says Lenk.

“What Israel has done,” he says, “is not merely preserve our natural water sources, which are far too small for our crowded neighbourhood, but significantly increase the water supply by a massive investment in desalination and recycling and strict rules on water use.”

The desalinisation leaders

 Lenk told Jewish Report that Israel is in constant talks with South Africans in both the private and public sectors about desalinisation “and why we think our applications are so suitable.” 

An Israel company is currently building the US’s largest desalinisation plant, in California. While it may be the biggest in the US, says Lenk, it is smaller than three of Israel’s four major desalination plants which make the salt water from Israel’s Mediterranean coast drinkable.

“Today, 492 billion litres per year are added to Israel’s water infrastructure, with a goal of reaching 757 billion litres by 2020,” says Lenk. Israel uses advanced techniques of reverse osmosis which is significantly cheaper, cleaner and more energy-efficient than in the past. The Israeli projects are run by the private sector.

Jordan/PA/Israel co-operate on water

Yet another Israeli success is an integrated national plan for development and management of an adequate water supply.

Given Israel’s hugely complex geopolitical situation, says Lenk, the Holy Land sees a secure supply of water as a national security issue. “Success or failure on these water issues will directly impact peace in my region.” In 2013, Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan, signed a memorandum of understanding on water management aimed at increasing water sales from Israel to the Palestinians.

Then, earlier this year, Israel and Jordan reached an agreement to share water to be produced by a planned hew desalination plant in Aqaba. Using water from the Red Sea for the first time, Israel is going to kill three birds with one stone.

  • Desalinated water will be used primarily for Israel’s thirsty southern region;
  • Another pipeline of desalinated water will be used piped to Israel and Jordan’s shared Dead Sea – decreasing the salinity levels and saving what is currently fast receding into a desert affecting both neighbours’ tourism industry; and
  • By creating additional potable water, Israel will double the amount of fresh water it currently supplies Jordan from the Sea of Galilee - on the countries’ northern border.

“We are making the pie bigger,” says Lenk. This joint venture with Jordan will lead to further stability in Israel’s rough neighbourhood, he says.

Also world leader in recycling

Lenk told Jewish Report that, to his knowledge, this topic had never been discussed with SA. However, he explained: “Israel treats 86 per cent of its domestic wastewater for safe re-use in agriculture.”

This, said the ambassador, represents a world-beating 55 per cent of all the water used for agriculture. Spain, which comes second, is only treating 17 per cent while the US recycles just one per cent.

While treatment techniques cause water in Israel to be “more expensive than current prices in SA”, says Lenk, realistic pricing brings an interesting benefit beyond confidence of long-term sustainability. Farmers have an economic incentive for more efficient usage. Thus today, Israel has mostly stopped growing cotton or exporting oranges (an orange is 87 per cent water).


What may be Israel’s most successful water saving technology -  and certainly its most exported -  is the nearly universal use of one of the country’s most famous inventions, drip irrigation. This cuts agricultural water usage by up to half.

Made in SA using Israeli tech

While the world average use of drip irrigation is just five per cent, Lenk wrote in his op-ed, 90 per cent of Israeli farmers use it. The use of a plastic emitter in drip irrigation was developed in Israel by Simcha Blass in the late 1950s and, in 1966, Israel’s Netafim Corporation developed the world’s first dripper.

Netafim is active globally today and has a successful local factory based in Kraaifontein near Cape Town and makes the products there using local labour and Israeli technology. They have even created a complete range of products designed specifically for emerging farmers. NETAFIM SA has built an export business which markets “to places that don’t want to buy goods that say ‘Made in Israel’,” Lenk told Jewish Report.

Netafim SA is also an agricultural turnkey project company offering their customers a complete installation.

And, adds the ambassador: “Leading Israeli water management companies continue to share our innovation and experiences around the world and have shown interest in offering assistance here in South Africa.”

SA flocked to WATEC in Tel Aviv

 Lenk said this week that he had been impressed at the “number of South African officials and business leaders (who) visited Israel last month to take part in Israel’s famous WATEC conference and exhibition”. While he confirmed to Jewish Report that his reference to “officials” meant employees in all three tiers of government, he would not give any names.

But, he said, those who attended WATEC had done so “to learn more about the real potential for co-operation. This conversation between officials and the business communities of our two countries needs to be developed and deepened - it is in South Africa’s national interest,” he said.

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    1 Comment

    1. 1 Denis Solomons 18 Nov
      Sonic booms and nimbus cloud formation are very much in vogue now in terms of rain cloud formation .
      Nimbus cloud formation by means of sonic boom formation is thought to be more cost effective than desalination which is relatively expensive.
      Obviously Israel is interested in converting the Negev into an oasis and this is best done by desalination.
      Water is a precious commodity and must be looked after.
      What we are particularly interested in is safe drinking water .
      Humans , animals , vegetation, all species are dependent on water .
      The chemical formulation of water is H2O or 2 hydrogen molecules to 1 oxygen molecule.
      The valency of  Hydrogen is 1 and that of oxygen is 16 .
      So its back to chemical basics.


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