Israel: Global Model of Sustainable Water Management

by David Harary

Israel has the most sustainable water infrastructure globally. Since building the first collective communities based on agriculture, called kibbutzim, Israel has had a long standing history of developing innovative solutions to sustain its scarce resources. Today, the small arid nation is more active in the field of sustainability than ever before. Undeterred by the limited availability of resources across the Levant and the efforts of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement, Israel consistently leads the Middle East for efficiency and reuse. Why is this so? Because without these innovations, Israel could never support its own people or those of other nations.

Despite being situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, over half of Israel’s land is desert. [1] Combined with the third densest population in the Middle East, Israel’s water demand has easily outstripped its supply. Because of this, Israel has been forced to rely on unconventional water resources. This meant innovating new agricultural processes, such as drip irrigation, grey water recycling, and the development of seawater resistant crops. These techniques are now being used throughout the world and are exemplary of the often used phrase in sustainability, “making more with less.”

Today, however, new technologies are being implemented to build upon this work and harness sustainability. Using 120 wastewater treatment plants, such as the Dan Region Wastewater Treatment Plant, Israel has been able to treat, reclaim, and reuse over 80% of the country’s municipal sewage wastewater. [2] That’s eight times more than the second best user of reclaimed water, Spain. By capturing a rather plentiful resource in a desert, sand, Israelis were able to develop natural filtration methods to improve the quality of sewage. [3]

Besides water reuse, Israel has invested heavily into desalination technology, with the goal of capturing saltwater from its western shores. Around 35% of the country’s drinking water now comes from the Mediterranean. [4] This is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. Israeli desalination technology is now used in over 40 countries worldwide, including China, India, and the U.S. [5] Such exportation of ingenuity is rarely seen by countries as small as Israel.

These resource developments are now shifting tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Water is questionably the single most important, yet hotly contested resource in the region. The establishment of several desalination plants has allowed for an astonishing total net water surplus. This will allow for an increase in the supply of water to both the Kingdom of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. [6] Before this infrastructure was available, however, water resources were a major point of contention between Israelis and Palestinians. While many issues still persist between the two populations, strains on the region’s water reserves are now starting to be alleviated. Under the Taba Agreement, water resources of Palestinian territories are fully controlled by Israel. Israel is now able to supply over 90% of Palestinians living in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with adequate access to water. [7] In addition to supplying its closest neighbors, Israel increased its exports of water to Jordan, in order to supply its Syrian refugees.

While tensions between Israelis and Palestinians remain at-large, a new hope for peace can be recognized via increasing water security throughout the region. While the concept of water resource sustainability is regarded by experts as a constant moving target, Israel has been successful in turning over a scarce resource into an abundant one. [8]

[1] Orni, E., & Efrat, E. (1971). Geography of Israel. Geography of Israel. New revised edition.

[2] Rinat, Zafrir (June 25, 2012). “UN cites Israeli wastewater treatment plant as global model”. Haaretz. Retrieved January 27, 2016.

[3] Brenner, A. (2012). Limitations and challenges of wastewater reuse in Israel. In Clean Soil and Safe Water (pp. 3–9). Springer Netherlands

[4] Josef Federman (May 30, 2014). “Israel solves water woes with desalination”. Associated Press. Retrieved January 27, 2016.


[6] Oziransky, Y., Kalmakova, A. G., & Margolina, I. L. (2014). Integrated scarce water resource management for a sustainable water supply in arid regions (the experience of the state of Israel). Arid Ecosystems, 4(4), 270–276.

[7] A Snapshot of Drinking-water and Sanitation in the Arab States — 2010 Update, p. 5. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation, November 2011. On, Joint Monitoring Programme (see: Regional snapshots)

[8] Kovacic, Z. O. R. A. (2014). Assessing sustainability: The societal metabolism of water in Israel. International Journal of Performability Engineering, 10(4), 387–399.