Israeli scientist Daniel Hillel, credited with developing drip irrigation methods that allow food to be grown in the world's driest climates, will receive this year's World Food Prize.
Israel: An Oasis of Sustainable Development
The Land of Israel has not been blessed with forests, nor is it rich in water. Nonetheless, in its 64 short years of existence, the modern State of Israel has become a world leader in developing and managing these and other natural resources, from water recycling and desalination, to forestry and solar energy innovations. The country's pioneers and entrepreneurs have not only turned the desert green, as the cliché goes, but have also guaranteed that it will remain this way for years to come.
The Jewish state tops the world in water re-use and recycling, treating and recycling 80 percent of effluent water for agriculture. It is a trailblazer in water desalination: the desalination plant in Ashkelon is the world's second largest, and by 2015, 75 percent of Israel's water supply will come from desalination. And Israel is one of only two countries in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees.
Israel's successes in sustainable development – where resource use meets current human needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – have won the country wide acclaim. A scientist whose work in Israel revolutionized food production was recently named the winner of this year's World Food Prize, and an entrepreneur responsible for Israel's first solar field has been named one of six global "Green Pioneers" by CNN.
Bringing Water to the World’s Driest Regions
This year’s winner of the World Food Prize, which honors efforts to fight global hunger, is Israeli scientist Dr. Daniel Hillel. Hillel developed a groundbreaking irrigation system called micro-irrigation, which carries water through perforated plastic pipes to plants, where it drips or trickles onto the roots. Using this system, dozens of countries have been able to revolutionize their agricultural practices, bringing water to the driest regions on earth, allowing food to be grown and benefiting thousands of farmers.
Especially noteworthy, World Food Prize Foundation President Kenneth Quinn noted as he announced the award, is the fact that Hillel shared technologies with agriculturalists across the Middle East. “Dr. Hillel’s work and motivation has been to bridge such divisions and to promote peace and understanding in the Middle East by advancing a breakthrough achievement addressing a problem that so many countries share in common – water scarcity,” Quinn said.
Unsurprisingly, Hillel was first drawn to the issue of water scarcity during his days living in Israel’s Negev Desert. Born in the United States but raised in Israel, he was one of the founders of Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. That is where Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, found him.
Impressed by Hillel’s work on drip irrigation, which he began as an employee of Israel’s Agriculture Ministry, Ben-Gurion sent him on trips to promote his innovative techniques in developing countries around the world. Hillel went on to work for international agencies, including the United Nations and World Bank, alongside an illustrious career in academia.
Speaking at the announcement ceremony, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the importance of focusing the attention of the U.S. government and the rest of the world on discovering ways of evading a “devastating water crisis.”
“It’s especially fitting that we honor today someone who has made such a contribution, because he understood the critical role water plays in agriculture and the importance of getting every last drop used efficiently,” Clinton said.
“A Renewable Light Unto the Nations”
Another Israeli innovator garnering international attention, Yosef Abramowitz, was selected last month by CNN as one of six global “Green Pioneers” for his environmental achievements. Abramowitz is the president and cofounder of the Arava Power Company, which built a solar field at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Desert – Israel’s first such field – and is now the leading commercial developer of solar power in Israel.
While Arava Power continues to set up photovoltaic fields in the Arava and Negev, which will eventually supply the electricity needs of thousands of residents, Abramowitz has taken his message of solar energy to underserved communities around the world. He has traveled to Rwanda to teach young people about the potential of employing solar energy, and is involved in a forum helping Haiti develop a solar energy industry.
“The choice of an Israeli for a program focused on environmental issues is proof that [the] world looks to us as an example for environmental technology and innovation,” Abramowitz said. “With the help of the government of Israel and its support for solar energy, we will continue to be a renewable light unto the nations.”
Sharing Israel’s Expertise
As Hillel and Abramowitz illustrate, Israelis have always been eager to share their expertise on environmental issues, and the Israeli government has also been keen on international cooperation.
Jerusalem sent in June a 66-member delegation to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, led by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan. Erdan was unanimously elected vice chairman of the conference – a choice, he said, was “a recognition of Israel’s ability and an appreciation of its contributions to the world in the efficient use of resources and dealing with hunger, food security and water scarcity.”
Also in June, a delegation of top energy experts from the United States visited Israel to learn about Israeli advances in renewable and alternative energy, and to explore potential collaboration in these fields. “Israel is a nation that has moved forward very aggressively on a clean energy economy by necessity,” said Scott Paul, founding executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. “Some of those lessons can certainly be applied to the United States.”