Israel’s water technology impresses Melbourne lecturer

February 21, 2014 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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A lecturer in groundwater at Melbourne’s Monash University has toured Israel’s water technology facilities.

“I’m amazed by the scope of the challenges you face here and how KKL-JNF is responding to them.”

Dr. Chunhui Lu, who lectures on groundwater technology at Monash University, and Gregor Sanders, who is working on his PhD on drought adaptation of eucalyptus trees at Melbourne University, are two scientists who were awarded scholarships by JNF Australia’s 360 Degrees scholarship program.

The scholarship winners were accompanied by Avi Gafni, a KKL-JNF tour guide who led them up and down Israel for two weeks and introduced them to KKL-JNF staff and professionals who described Israel’s achievements and challenges in the fields of afforestation and water technology.

At the Arava greenhouse   Photo: Tania Susskind

At the Arava greenhouse Photo: Tania Susskind

In addition to touring KKL projects and sites, Chunhui and Gregor were introduced to scientists in their respective field of expertise. Chunhui met with scholars and researchers in the Israel Water Authority in Tel Aviv, the Geological Institute in Jerusalem and the Technion in Haifa. Gregor met with professionals and researchers who work in close cooperation with KKL’s Foresting Department headed by Dr. David Brand. Gregor’s meetings included a visit to Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Rechovot, a visit to the LTER Station at Yatir Forest, the Jacob Blaustein Institute of Desert Research at Ben Gurion University, and various Eucalyptus research plots with researchers from the Volcani Institute.


The two week program was quite intense and it included tours of the central, northern and southern region of Israel. During their second week of touring, the researchers spent time together in the Negev and Arava, where they saw why KKL-JNF is considered a world leader in desert forestry and water management.

At KKL-JNF’s Wadi Atir Ecological Farm, which is next to the Bedouin town of Hura, the small group met Shadi, who is responsible for curricula and research. “In the media, one hears about tension between KKL-JNF and the local Bedouin community, but the reality is exactly the opposite. Both Jewish and Arab children learn here about ecology and the environment by experiencing it, not just by hearing about it in a classroom. This project brings communities together that have often been at odds since 1948. 700 pupils will learn about local flora and fauna in a tent in the streambed, and each grade will research five plants, including their medicinal properties. We are talking about first to twelfth graders, including special needs children. This project represents our state and the south, and we are very proud of it.”

As if to demonstrate what Shadi had just said, a group of fifth graders from Hura arrived at the site with their teachers, excited to be spending a day in nature. They were soon followed by Dr. Muhammad al-Nabari, the mayor of Hura, who said that he believed in regional cooperation, “not in some abstract idea of coexistence. I believe that working together in partnership is what brings results. KKL-JNF cannot ignore the Bedouin presence in the Negev, and I very much appreciate the cooperation between KKL-JNF and our community in all matters related to afforestation, grazing and education, of which Wadi Atir is a perfect example.”

Dr. Muhammad al-Nabari, Avi Gafni, Shadi, Chunhui Lu, & Gregor Sanders at Wadi Atir. Photo: Tania Susskind

Dr. Muhammad al-Nabari, Avi Gafni, Shadi, Chunhui Lu, & Gregor Sanders at Wadi Atir. Photo: Tania Susskind

Gregor and Chunhui were greeted at the Negev community of Nevatim by Mira, who took them to the Cochin Jewish Heritage center, where they saw a movie that told the story of this unique community. Jews lived in Cochin, India, for over a thousand years, at peace with their Muslim, Hindi and Christian neighbors. Although they were very wealthy, when they heard about the founding of the State of Israel, they immediately decided to return to their ancient homeland. One of the people interviewed in the movie remembered asking his mother why they were sent to the desert, when they were used to greenery everywhere and had never before worked in agriculture. “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob also came to a desert, and they worked it, and so will we, until we make it bloom,” she answered him.

“We love KKL-JNF, and KKL-JNF loves us,” Mira said. “With the help of their friends in Australia, they have been involved in infrastructure work and have developed our public spaces and built playgrounds for our children.”

Kibbutz Hatzerim is one of the partners of Nevatim, Israel’s world-famous drip irrigation factory, but without water, even the most efficient of systems would be useless. KKL-JNF has built over 230 water reservoirs throughout the country that harvest floodwater and store recycled effluents. Today, about 87% of Israel’s sewage is recycled. Nitzan Loantz, a member of the kibbutz, met Chunhui and Gregor at the Hatzerim water facility, which was built with the generous support of the Ma’alot 360 Group from Melbourne and Michael Triguboff of Sydney, friends of JNF Australia. “Our main agricultural income is from jojoba seeds, from which we extract an oil that is a major component of many cosmetics. Hatzerim produces 50% of Israel’s jojoba crop, but what’s important to realize is that without this water facility, this would be impossible.”

The day continued at Beersheba River Park, which is being developed in an area that used to be the city of Beersheba’s garbage dump. A few years ago a decision was made to rehabilitate the streambed and turn the ecological disaster into a park that would be a tourist attraction. KKL-JNF and its friends worldwide, including fromGermanyUSA and Canada, joined the project. Avi took Greg and Lu to the Montreal Oasis Barbara and Stanley Plotnick Family Park, which includes sprawling lawns for recreation and leisure, walking and bicycle paths, a multi-purpose sports fields, an open theater, and play and recreation corners. “Sewage from Hebron and Tel Sheva stills flows in this direction,” Avi said, “and since we can’t rely on the Palestinian Authority to deal with this problem, a new treatment plant will be built north of Beersheba.” “I’m amazed by the scope of the challenges you face here and how KKL-JNF is responding to them,” Gregor said.

Thursday began with a visit to the Central Arava Regional Council and the Arava Children’s Environmental Center. Chunhui and Gregor were greeted by Samantha Levi, who works in resource development for the council and showed them around. “We have a different form of education here,” Samantha said, “we call it hands-on learning.” She showed them the site of the new ecological classroom being funded by friends of JNF Australia in Melbourne, a very welcomed project due to the dilapidated condition of the structure currently in use, along with the new music center being built with the help of JNF Canada. Shoshi, a schoolteacher, said that the ecological classroom was one of the children’s favorite places. “In general,” she explained, “it’s really not possible to live in the Arava, but we live here and make it possible.”

Sapir Park, an 800 dunam park with a lake fed by a natural spring, is also a gift of JNF Australia. “We don’t have a lot of green places here due to the extreme weather,” Samantha said, “so we really enjoy it. People camp here, and we need to make it more hospitable to guests. The park needs to be renovated in order to provide services for all the people who come here.”

No visit to the Arava would be complete without a stop at the Central Arava Research and Development Station and the recently opened Vidor Visitors Center. Gregor and Chunhui met withRivka Ofenbach and Efi Tripler, who told them about the work being done on farming in a desert region with an average of 13 mms annual rainfall and basically no fertile soil. Chunhui found the research being done on farming with brackish water especially interesting, and Gregor was interested in the “Adopt an Acacia” project.  Peppers are the Arava’s major crop, and Rivka explained some of the economic complexity of growing them here: “In the 1960s, a family produced about 20 tons of peppers per dunam and made a nice profit. Now, due to the high expenses of technology, labor, water and fertilizers, they barely make ends meet by producing 500 tons of peppers per dunam. We’re always looking for new ideas, like Bitter (Momordica) Melons, which are known as the insulin fruit, because they are useful in treating diabetes. It is also extremely resistant to plant diseases, and researchers at the R&D station are working on producing biological pesticides from its leaves.”

The day ended with a visit to the Og water reservoir on the banks of the Dead Sea, which was built by 
KKL-JNF France. The Nahal Og Reservoir II is located at the northwestern tip of the Dead Sea, about a kilometer south of Og Reservoir I, which was constructed with the assistance of friends of KKL France.  The reservoir has a storage capacity of 1.5 million cubic meters and was intended to increase drainage capacities from Jerusalem’s eastern neighborhoods, Maale Adumim, Anatot, and the Mishor Adumim Industrial Zone.  After being treated, the water in the reservoir is used for agricultural irrigation in villages north of the Dead Sea. The reservoir improves the quality of life and environment in the vicinities of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, saves drinking water and thereby provides some relief for the increasing scarcity of water in Israel after another relatively dry winter. 

Chunhui Lu said that his colleagues had recommended that he look into cooperating with Israeli scientists, which led him to apply for the Ma’alot 360 scholarship program. “I’m very impressed by how KKL-JNF supports Israel’s trees and water technologies. Many of your achievements and discoveries could be useful for other countries, especially northern China, where water is limited. I’m very excited, because we submitted a proposal for a collaboration with scientists from Ben Gurion University, and I just received an email that it was accepted.”

Gregor Sanders said that what he studies “is very connected to KKL-JNF’s traditional work, which is planting trees, also in arid and semi-arid regions. Over-farming has caused salinization and soil erosion, while trees have a role in stabilizing the processes of land degradation and biodiversity loss. At the end of the day, environmental concerns have to support human interests, because otherwise, people just aren’t interested.”


One Response to “Israel’s water technology impresses Melbourne lecturer”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    Australia lost out with Richard Pratt and his inovations, remember them? Here today we have the Federal Goverment now having to support farmers with handouts.

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