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.
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.
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.