Aug 2009 Journal

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Letter from Israel:

The grass is dying

Israel has been experiencing a drought for several years. Everyone knows that not a single drop of rain falls in Israel during the summer months - namely, from May to October - so that all the country’s water requirements arrive in the form of precipitation during the rainy winter months. For the last five years, however, the rainfall has not been sufficient to replenish the rivers in the north, so that the level of Lake Tiberias, the principal fresh-water reservoir, has been dangerously depleted.

However, despite warnings in the Bible and human experience in the intervening thousands of years, it does not seem to have occurred to anyone that this might happen in modern times. Although Israeli scientists have been at the forefront of water desalination research, the various governments of Israel have been loth to embark on this long and expensive process. Considering the extensive use of water in agriculture, the ‘greening’ of the desert, and the growth of the population, the amount of water that was adequate in the past was obviously not going to be enough forever.

When the grim situation first became clear, last winter, ‘they’ announced that nobody would be allowed to water their gardens. And that no public parks could be watered either. This would be tantamount to turning Israel back into the desert it once was, the protest went up, and eventually ‘they’ crumbled. A new edict was published to the effect that public parks could be watered, but only during hours of darkness, and any garden that used the drip watering system could continue to do so. This did not last long either: it was recently announced on the radio that private gardens could be watered, even by sprinklers, but for no more than one hour a week.

The general populace was encouraged to save water in various ways, and even to refrain from flushing toilets unless absolutely necessary. Suddenly, without further ado, saving water began to dominate our lives, and the people are being encouraged to employ various water-saving and recycling devices, in addition to installing special attachments to taps and double flushing systems on toilets. Advertisements on TV even remind people to turn the tap off while soaping dishes or themselves in the shower.

The first thing we did when we heard about the ban on watering gardens was to buy three large water butts and a bucket. The bucket was duly installed in our bathroom and the butts in the garden. This was during the winter, when there was still a chance of rain. The bucket in our bathroom is placed under the tap in the shower, so that all the water that usually runs down the drain while we wait for the hot water to come through is collected and eventually transferred to one of the butts.

When summer arrived, the bathroom bucket was complemented by a large laundry bowl. Now, after collecting the cold water in the bucket, the person who is taking a shower stands in the laundry bowl and thus the water from the shower is collected. Soapy water isn’t very good for the garden, I’m told, but it’s surely better than no water at all.

A tremendous amount of water gets wasted in the kitchen, it transpires. So now, when we wash dishes or rinse vegetables, we collect the water in a bowl and that goes to the garden too. Most of the plants seem to be surviving, though only just.

As for not flushing the toilet, it seems that there are some sacrifices for my country that even I am not prepared to make.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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