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Innovation in water, part 3: necessity is the mother of invention

Julia Bucknall's picture

 Futuristic water design that would provide water for food in the desert, featured in The Guardian in 2008. Photograph: Exploration Architecture.

“What are the new developments in water? Are there new technologies that developing countries could use to bypass expensive and cumbersome systems?  What’s the next big thing that could solve the water crisis?”  Politicians and the media often ask experts for new ideas to make water “interesting”.  Yet, on the whole, water systems constructed today use much of the same technology they did 100 years ago. 

Innovation in water, part 2: desalination

Julia Bucknall's picture

People skeptical of hearing water experts talking about water crises put their faith in the human capacity to innovate.  They point to the rapid decline in costs of taking the salt out of sea water as evidence that – when we really have to – we will innovate and make sure we can meet our water needs. 

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Israel, one of the driest countries in the world, has invested heavily in non-conventional sources of water.  Desalination currently provides around 40 percent  of Israel’s municipal water supply and the plan is for this source to provide 70 percent by 2015. In March, a team from the the World Bank's WDR2010 and Middle East North Africa units visited the largest operational reverse osmosis desalination plant in the world, in Hadera. 

Twenty minutes ago this water was sea water! from World Bank on Vimeo.

Desalination does indeed have potential to meet the municipal water needs of many people in the world – but only those who live near the sea.  

Uri Shamir, Professor Emeritus at Technion on 'Desalination' from World Bank on Vimeo.

Costs have come down to about $0.55 per cubic metre, about half what it was a decade ago.  How have engineers managed this?  Economies of scale are important.  They have also been able to save on costs by designing an efficient system within the plant and by clever energy saving technology. Will the costs come down much further?  About 10% say the Israeli experts.  Not more.

Israel’s very careful management of every drop of water has led to an interesting problem. 

Innovation in water, part 1: drip irrigation

Julia Bucknall's picture

 


Today is World Water Day, a good time to ponder the impacts of global climate change on water availability and quality. Julia Bucknall was part of a team of experts from the WDR2010 and the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa region visiting Israel last week to learn about innovation in water. The blog below is the first in three installments.

Can high-tech agriculture help developing countries get more from their water? 

Israel invented drip irrigation, a technology that has spread rapidly since its introduction in the 1960s and which is widely touted as a key way for countries to close their water gap and be more adapted to climate change.  It certainly does reduce evaporative losses, is often associated with a switch to high-value crops, and reduces fertilizer use when liquid fertilizer is added to the mix and delivered precisely to the root of the plant (a process that delights in the name “fertigation”).  We often see important productivity gains. 

Yet it’s not as simple as that.