Personal notes : Realpolitik, or what Israel is missing on by choosing to ignore the Arab initiative for peace as expressed by King Abdullah. Long answer short, billions of much needed cash and a respectable seat amongst the nations of the region.
Read on about the complementarity between Israeli water tech and the needs of Arab countries :
Israel Looks to Export Water Tech to World’s Mines
As reported in Globes.co.il: The Foreign Trade Administration has a new plan to double Israel’s water technology exports, by 2012.
The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor’s Foreign Trade Administration has a new plan to double Israel’s water technologies exports, by 2012, from the $1.5 billion in exports in 2010. The new plan targets coal, copper and gold mines in South Africa, Brazil, Chile, and Australia.The Ministry of Industry’s commercial attaches have begun seeking business opportunities for integrating Israeli water technologies in the mining industry. Israel NewTech director Oded Distel told “Globes”, “The nature of mining combined with growing water shortages and growing public awareness of the need to purify wastewater has made Israeli technologies, considered leaders in the field, relevant. It would be a terrible waste if we miss the momentum to integrate Israeli technologies in this niche.”
Distel added, “The government has decided in principle to expand the international activity of Israeli cleantech companies and fulfilling their business potential in the global market. We decided to focus our efforts on the mining industry because Israeli companies have something to offer them.”
Israeli irrigation equipment makers, water desalination companies, companies developing energy saving technologies for desalination, and developers of sewage treatment technologies are participating in the program. They include desalination plants operator IDE Technologies Ltd., Amiad Filtration Systems Ltd., Whitewater Technology Group, water quality monitoring systems developerBlue I Water Technologies Ltd., and Mapal Green Energy Ltd.
16 Israeli water technology companies recently visited South Africa, after previously visiting mines in Australia, Brazil, and Chile. When the potential in these countries is met, the second circle of countries includes Canada and China. Distel said that these visits yielded talks between Israeli cleantech and engineering companies and mining corporations.
Saudi Arabia addresses its future water needs
Saudi Arabia’s original model of addressing its water poverty is no longer sustainable. Once producing up to 70 percent of the country’s water needs, a growing demand for water is exhausting this solution at a rate that demands a change in the government’s policy and in its citizens’ demands for water.
Saudi Arabia may be rich in oil, but it is poor in one of life’s basic commodities: water.
For decades, the kingdom solved that problem with government-run desalination plants. These supplied 60 to 70 percent of the kingdom’s needs, with the rest met by ancient underground aquifers. In the process, Saudi Arabia became the world’s desalination king, producing more than any other country.
But that model is no longer sufficient. A rapidly expanding population, growing urbanization and plans for an increasingly diversified industrial base mean an ever greater demand for water—just as the country’s underground water supply is nearing depletion.
Clearly, meeting future water needs is one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest challenges. And to cope with it, the government has launched a major overhaul of its national water system, opening up to private sector participation and restructuring state-run entities.
It also committed around $60 billion to expanding the water supply and distribution network, according to a recent report by National Commercial Bank (NCB), one of the kingdom’s largest banks. Those projects include $14 billion for building 16 more desalination facilities over the next 17 years—about one a year. These new plants will augment the 30 existing ones, some of which will be decommissioned because of age.
The goal is to increase desalination water production, currently around 5.7 million cubic meters a day, to at least 10 million cubic meters and, if necessary, to 13 million cubic meters a day by 2020. That is the year when, by some estimates, the kingdom’s 22 million citizens will have increased to 33 million.
“We need to get a lot done fast,” said Paddy Padmanathan, President and CEO of ACWA Power International, a Saudi firm that has become one of the biggest providers of private sector-generated water in the kingdom.
The Saudis are not alone in their water conundrum. A report released 13 December by the Middle East program of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that water is a matter of rising concern across the Middle East, home to 10 of the world’s 15 most water-poor countries.
Entitled “Clear Gold,” the report warns that the region “is moving rapidly towards total depletion of its groundwater resources” and predicts that resulting shortages may have political ramifications as water-deprived citizens lose patience with governments.
“The real wild card for political and social unrest in the Middle East over the next 20 years is not war, terrorism, or revolution,” the report said. “It is water.”
Saudi Arabia’s first major move to deal with its water crisis came in 2002, when the Supreme Economic Council, recognizing that the private sector had a role to play in expanding the national water supply, issued new regulations for its participation in the water (and power) arenas.
New desalination plants—at Shuaibah, Shuqaiq, Ras Al-Zour and Jubail—were the first to be built under this new regime.
The government also restructured its water departments, creating the National Water Company to work in joint ventures with both Saudi and international corporations. In part, the NWC was set up to bypass traditionally slow-moving state bureaucracies and create a more investor-friendly environment.
Another big step came in 2008 when the government announced that it would phase out wheat farming by 2016. This addressed the fact that about 88 percent of the water used in the kingdom was for agriculture, even though that sector contributes less than 3 percent to the country’s GDP. It would make more sense, experts argued, to import wheat.
Nevertheless, “Clear Gold” found that more remains to be done in this area. Groundwater supplies continue to be used “for large-scale agricultural projects—such as the world’s largest dairy farm, where 2,300 gallons of water or more are needed to produce a gallon of milk,” the report stated. “Overall, the kingdom now uses as much as 20 billion cubic meters of nonrenewable groundwater every year for agriculture—the equivalent of almost three months worth of water crashing over Niagara Falls.”
In another key move, the Saudi government recognized the need to change consumer attitudes. The kingdom has the third highest daily per capita water consumption in the world—about 280 liters—after the United States and Canada. Water has traditionally been supplied free, or practically so, to residential and commercial customers, accounting for these high levels of consumption. Customers are charged about 1 percent of the actual cost of the water they use, while the government pays the rest, which leaves it with an annual water tab of $4 billion, according to one estimate.
Government officials, preaching the old saying that you don’t appreciate what comes for free, argue that this is about to change. The message is that water tariffs are coming for all consumers. Their phase-in will be gradual, they add, but sooner or later, the government will no longer be picking up the tab.
“In order to cut down water consumption in the Kingdom...it’s about time to restructure the water tariff,” Loay Ahmed Al-Musallam, CEO of the National Water Company, told a public forum on water in October. “And I think this is coming very, very soon.”
The Minister for Water and Electricity, Abdullah Al-Hussayen, suggested at the same forum that the government would not be moved on this issue. He pointed out that Saudis who happily pay an average of $53 dollars a month for a cell phone ought not to mind paying a monthly water bill.
Conservation is also a new mantra for the government. In addition to public media campaigns, it is installing faucets and flushes that release limited amounts of water in mosques and government offices.
Much more needs to be done, however, to reduce consumption, according to NCB chief economist Jarmo Kotilaine. “In general...the emphasis of the government has been on supply security above all, in order to meet demand,” he said. “Where there’s been much less progress is in demand management… On the whole, relatively little is being done on shaping attitudes and public opinion” about the need to use water responsibly.
Finally, the government’s new approach to water also includes more facilities for treating wastewater so that it can be put to industrial and commercial uses.
There is, as always, a downside for the government’s water policies, especially the expanded construction of desalination facilities. These plants need a lot of power: Currently, they eat up about 65 percent of all the oil that Saudi Arabia uses domestically. More desalination facilities means even more petroleum will be used at home, leaving less for export—which means less revenue in the years ahead.
As a result, the government has decided to move at a faster rate into solar and nuclear-generated power in order to save as much petroleum as possible for export. Last January, it announced a pilot program testing solar power in desalination plants.
Some improvements from the government’s revised water policies are already evident. Residents of Jeddah, the country’s second largest city, have seen a measurable reduction in long-standing water shortages in recent months after a new desalination project at Shuaibah—built by Acwapower International—began operating earlier this year. Padmanathan said he was optimistic that the kingdom will rise to meet its water challenge.
“I’m more confident than I was five years ago,” he said. “All the right policies are being implemented now.”
Caryle Murphy – An independent journalist based in Riyadh and Pulitzer Prize Winner in Journalism in 1991. She is the author of “Passion for Islam.”