mercoledì 28 maggio 2008

La crisi dell'acqua

Dal Jerusalem Post
Analysis: Combating the water crisis
Ehud Zion Waldoks , THE JERUSALEM POST
May. 27, 2008
One of the hardest things to do in a crisis is to think fast on your feet. By definition, a crisis is not amenable to advance planning. But a water crisis is not like other crises - it does not sneak up on you between one day and the next. When it comes to water, it seems like we are thinking well on our feet, but how well are we planning?
The statistics are dire. The Water Authority has created an entirely new set of black lines for Lake Kinneret to avoid irreversible pollution, as Water Authority head Prof. Uri Shani told the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on Monday.
Rainfall is down so much that the only way the country can even come close to recovering is if next year is a 120-percent rainfall year - something that hasn't remotely happened in the last several years. We are apparently not immune to the effects of climate change, and desertification is a phenomenon that will be with us for a while.
In the short term, Israel's actions are commendable - we are thinking well on our feet. Fresh water use has been restricted to the most essential consumers, sewage is being recycled at an impressive rate, desalination plants are at their maximum, agriculture has figured out how to use only a smidgen of fresh water, and the public will soon be subject to ever-more-intense water conservation campaigns.
In fact, Shani told the committee, the crisis is not about this year. This year, he and the authority are pulling out all the stops, such as sinking wells above the Kinneret to divert water before it gets there. No, the problem is, according to Shani, what happens next year. Or the year after. How are we dealing with the prospect that this may be all the water we are going to get from the sky each year for the foreseeable future?
Well, desalination plants are coming on-line all the time, some next year, some a few years after that. That is certainly true and certainly part of the solution. However, as Hadash MK Dov Henin, the premier environmental legislator in the Knesset, pointed out to The Jerusalem Post, it's also a discussion stopper. Trot out desalination plants, and no one has patience to talk about the other elements of our crisis.
What is rarely addressed is the human damage to our water system. No one talks about how many wells and streams have been polluted beyond use by private industry and government companies. To give just one example among many, the ground water around Haifa is now totally unusable because six million liters of oil have dripped into the port area from the Oil and Energy Infrastructures Company's main pipe over the last decade. Hundreds of other natural water sources have also been defiled by manmade chemicals.
And while it is now commonplace for everyone to pay lip service to environmental protection, it is highly doubtful that industry is doing all it can to minimize pollution.
The price of water is also rarely talked about outside of the business pages, but it has a direct environmental impact. Some of the richest communities in Israel, such as Savyon and Kfar Shmaryahu, pay less for their water than do many of the country's residents, such as those in the capital. Those communities began as agricultural enclaves and were therefore awarded reduced prices for agricultural use. Many years later, all that's being watered there now are the gigantic lawns and gardens of the mega-wealthy.
It's not sexy, nor is it headline-making, but perhaps a line-by-line audit of water tariffs by community - with an up-to-date map to hand - is in order. While we're at it, a clear picture of where gardens should be watered and where we'll have to make the difficult choice of giving them up may also be in order. Reducing fresh water for agriculture is very popular, but what about the 120 million cubic meters that come out of the population's hoses?
Finally, much of the desperately needed legislation gets held up for far too long because no one is willing to foot the bill and take responsibility. Industry is not much interested in policing itself, and the government ministries either don't have the budget for it or don't have the manpower for it, so they desperately avoid the additional responsibilities new legislation brings.
Which brings us back to the question: What constitutes a crisis? With all due respect to security issues, any crisis in that arena immediately receives additional funding and support. After the Second Lebanon War, the IDF embarked on a rigorous training regimen to bring itself back up to speed. It retasked itself within only a couple of years and we are, according to reports, once again capable of fighting any kind of war our enemies throw at us.
Well, there is no enemy we can fight here (except maybe polluters), but there is certainly a need to retask ourselves for this vital mission. We cannot continue to let the "urgent displace the important," as MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) put it so eloquently Monday morning. For once, this is a crisis that actually announces itself in forecasters' dire tones months and even years in advance, and we need to take advantage of that. Human beings landed a probe on Mars to search for water on Monday, but the essential search is for a coherent water policy, and that begins at home.