Sunday, August 14, 2016

How a new source of water is helping reduce conflict in the Middle East

How a new source of water is helping reduce conflict in the Middle East
Ensia, 19 July 2016, by Rowan Jacobsen

"The desalination era is here." A fascinating article that describes how Israel has embraced desalination on a large scale, resulting in a water surplus in the heart of a drought-ridden region (thanks also to aggressive conservation and reuse programs far beyond those in other countries).  Technological advances have improved desal's practicality and efficiency greatly, and 55% of Israel's water now comes from desalination.  Furthermore, Israel is starting to collaborate with neighboring countries to spread the technology throughout the region.  It is often suggested that water shortages due to climate change will cause conflict and war (as seems perhaps to have happened in Syria). But this article suggests that it can also be a goad toward greater co-operation and interdependence that could lead to peace.

My take: Overall this seems like excellent news.  If we can use desalination to take the pressure off of our overstressed freshwater sources – many of which are already in decline due to excessive withdrawals and/or climate change – that is all to the good.  What worries me about the desalination boom, which this article doesn't really discuss, is that it will substantially increase energy demand, undermining our efforts to get off of fossil fuels.  The article says desal is about 1/3 as expensive as it was in the 1990s, and I guess that implies it is also more energy-efficient than it used to be; nevertheless, if countries bigger than Israel start relying on desal on a large scale, it will increase energy demand enormously.  If achieving water security in the age of climate change requires a massive buildout of desal plants, that may spell big trouble for our energy policy and our greenhouse emissions.  Nevertheless, efficient and practical desalination is a key technological advance needed to get us through the coming century, and it is heartening to hear that progress is being made on it – and that that is leading to co-operation among nations.

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