Pray for Rain: Israel’s dry spell a five-year drought

Dry river bed at Tel Dan, northern Israel, 2017, Photo: Ilan Koren/Wikimedia Commons

Israel is is experiencing a five-year drought that is drying out several crucial bodies of water, causing a struggle for farmers trying to produce successful crops and having a ripple effect on the economy.

“Nobody expected five years of drought in a row, so despite our desalination capacity, it’s still a very, very grave situation,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of energy.

The drought is expected to be felt throughout the Israeli economy as well.

Earlier this year, Ran Ferdman, manager of farming operations at Kibbutz Ruhama in the Negev, predicted they would be growing fewer vegetables.

“The drop in rainfall this winter and the increased damage to farms will lead to smaller harvests and fewer farm products,” Ferdman said. “This is going to affect the whole economy. There are going to be cutbacks in the quantities of vegetables being grown. The less rainfall there is this winter, the greater the damage to agriculture, and this will reduce harvests and agriculture-affected goods. Most critical is the condition of the dairy sector. If there is no food in the form of grains for the dairy sector, the target price will rise.”

Years of decreased rainfall have reduced the Sea of Galilee, and while Israel has tried to increase desalination efforts to meet demand, it isn’t enough. As early as January this past winter — the season when Israel relies on rainfall to increase its stores — officials were already predicting it was the driest winter in years.

Now in the throes of a hot dry summer with months to go until the rains begin again, many Israelis are beginning to pray for precipitation to exceed the past few years.

Some critics blame a reduction in warnings to Israelis to conserve water for some of the depletion of water stores while relying on the five desalination plants that have opened since 2005. They provide 40 percent of Israel’s drinking-quality water.

Israel has renewed public service messages over the past few months through a televised ad campaign asking residents to conserve water.

Last month, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon officially declared the Negev Desert to be experiencing a drought. He accepted the recommendations of the drought committee, freeing up relief funds for farmers of crops that are expected to be affected by any water shortages.

Ofer Moskovitz, an Israeli farmer who usually grows more than one crop a year, chose this year not to plant wheat and just grow avocados.

“If I don’t water the avocado trees for one day they start getting weak. If I don’t water them for a year, 20 years would go down the drain,” he said.

The government passed a plan in June to increase the amount of desalinated water, rehabilitate springs and tributaries and to add desalinated water to the Sea of Galilee starting next year.

Nevertheless, we pray for heavy rains this upcoming winter to replenish Israel’s natural water sources.