Adopt new tech to solve drought
The severe droughts that have been troubling parts of Thailand over the past few years, not to mention other countries in the region, represent a serious and worrying phenomenon, especially if they strike during what should be the monsoon period. Water shortages in the middle of the crop-planting season not only cause local farmers to suffer, but they also have much wider ripple effects.
Unesco's World Water Assessment Programme predicts that by 2030, the world will face a global water deficit of as much as 40% because of a devastating combination of climate change, human activities and population growth. As such, water crises are now becoming a global scourge, with the victims not just farmers in Thailand, but essentially almost everyone.
From the very first day that Israel was established, scarcity of water was a chronic problem making the day-to-day lives of its people difficult. Israel is situated in a dry region of the world, facing harsh arid and semi-arid climatic conditions, and suffers frequent droughts as a consequence. Indeed, some 60% of Israel's territory is, in fact, desert land. For the past seven decades of its existence, Israel has been taking bold steps to tackle its water woes, dedicating significant resources to doing so. "Making the desert bloom", the famed vision of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, was and still is a top national priority.
Almost miraculously in the face of its severe water limitations, Israel has managed to transform barren land into agricultural farms, establish rural communities in arid areas, and develop advanced agricultural technologies to enable fruits and vegetables to be cultivated for domestic consumption and export.
But this miracle did not come about by accident. Israel's greatest resource was and still is its human capital. Early water expert pioneers had to overcome the tough natural conditions and develop cutting-edge technologies to enable a decent quality of life in what is a very challenging region. One of the earliest inventions to emerge was drip irrigation, a system whereby a tiny amount of water is dripped onto the roots of plants, improving water efficiency and increasing crop productivity. This system is now in use all over the world because it cuts water usage by roughly 60% compared with traditional cultivation methods.
However, the need to meet the water consumption of a growing population has meant that even more innovative water production and treatment technologies as well as advanced water-management tools have needed to be developed urgently. Israel has therefore had no choice but to develop an inter-disciplinary approach, incorporating water policy, national-level water management, and large- and small-scale technologies in order to be able to provide for the needs of all sectors of its society.
One of the most fascinating innovations involved large-scale desalination projects – with treated saline water now providing more than half of Israel's drinking water. Water recycling serves as yet another excellent example.
Today, Israel ranks as one of the countries with the highest percentage of recycled water use in the world, with around 75% of Israeli wastewater treated and reused for agricultural purposes and industry.
The next generation of technologies, development of which is well under way, involves atmospheric water generators, turning air into drinking water, in effect virtually making water out of "nothing".
As a consequence of the current water conditions now prevalent in Thailand, the country will likely have to go through similar processes and make the necessary adaptations that Israel has.
To maintain agricultural production levels, Thailand looks set to have to adopt some of the same methods in order to enhance the efficiency of water use, find new resources, and develop new techniques to enable sustainable agriculture.
Needless to say, Thailand and Israel already have deep connections when it comes to efforts to turn desert and drought-parched land into productive areas for the cultivation of crops. About 25,000 Thai labourers are currently employed in Israel's agricultural sector, using a range of advanced technologies in their daily work.
Many of them also put these methods into practice after returning home to Thailand. Additionally, every year, 100 Thai students participate in a year-long intensive agricultural study programme in Israel, gaining valuable knowledge which they also bring back home.
Meanwhile, Israel has invested in extensive training and provided resources for the Hub Kapong Royal Project Learning Centre in Cha-am, working with farmers' cooperatives to improve irrigation techniques.
Israel stands firmly committed to continuing to share its abilities in enhancing water technology and management, and our hope is that our knowledge and experience, gained after decades of innovation, but also much sweat and some hard work, can contribute to the prosperity and well-being of countries such as Thailand that wish to adapt Ben-Gurion's grand vision of "making the desert bloom" to fulfil their own needs.
Meir Shlomo is the Ambassador of Israel to Thailand.
Meir Shlomo is the Israeli ambassador.