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Eye on Israel and the Middle East as International Water Day Approaches

Contact: Jodi Bodner • JNF Director of Communications • 212-879-9305 ext. 221 •

March 2010 – New York, NY – If scarcity of water resources weren’t enough of an issue, water quality is under scrutiny as well.

March 22, 2010 is International Water Day, an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. This year's theme is “Clean Water for a Healthy World.” Jewish National Fund (JNF), the non-profit founded in 1901 to develop and care for the land and people of Israel, is making huge inroads in the critical issues of water management, access and sanitation as water remains the most pressing environmental and political issue today in Israel and the Middle East region.

Every year, more than 1,000 cubic miles of wastewater are produced globally. While waste and wastewater can be reused productively for energy and irrigation, they often are not. In developing countries, 80% of all discharged waste goes untreated owing to a lack of regulations and resources. For more than a decade, JNF has pioneered innovative solutions to stretch Israel’s water resources, building 205 reservoirs with a combined capacity of more than 66 billion gallons of recycled and flood water and has increased Israel's water supply by 12%. These reservoirs provide almost half of all the water demanded by the agricultural sector, the largest consumer of water in Israel, thereby freeing up scarce fresh water for domestic use. Today, Israel recycles more than 77% of the sewage water, the highest amount in the world. Spain is second, recycling just 17 %.

But as Israel grapples with its worst water shortage in 80 years, JNF has furthered its involvment by creating the JNF Parsons Water Fund. The Fund, a comprehensive $100 million, 10-year initiative, is expanding upon and accelerating JNF’s vital work by investing in a diverse portfolio of projects to increase Israel’s supply of high-quality water by more than 440 billion gallons.

In 2008, the Knesset appointed an Investigative Commission to determine the causes of Israel’s water crisis and submit findings and recommendations. Because of JNF’s record of involvement in Israel’s water economy, it was the only organization outside of Israel invited to testify before the commission, where in February 2009, it presented the JNF Parsons Water Fund as a sustainable solution to Israel’s water shortage.

The Fund focuses on creating new sources of water by drilling for new aquifers, and looking for new, clean technologies that will purify water to the tertiary level. Additionally, its objectives include promoting water recycling projects for rehabilitating rivers and streams, exploring options of water importation, and supporting educational initiatives directed towards saving water. It will lend, rather than give, capital for the creation of water-related infrastructure projects; this money will return to the Fund, allowing for future investments in excess of the initial endowment. “We don’t want to stand in front of our donors 10 years from now and still talk about the water crisis in Israel,” said Dr. Mort Mower, the Fund’s chairman.

The Fund’s Projects at a Glance:

Drilling For New Aquifers
JNF is part of a joint private, philanthropic and governmental venture to access a recently discovered aquifer at Kibbutz Shamir in northern Israel by drilling a mile below the Earth’s surface. This underground well will provide about 6.6 billion gallons of water yearly, meeting the needs of around one million people and adding six to seven inches to the Kinneret.

Purification and Recycling
Purification of waste water to at least the tertiary level allows it to be used for agricultural irrigation. While more than 70% of the sewage water in Israel is purified, 34 billion gallons of  waste water do not get recycled, creating an environmental hazard and posing a threat to underground water reserves. JNF is planning to build an additional 40 new reservoirs over the next few years. JNF will assist local and regional councils in Israel in upgrading their existing water purification systems and has begun to implement cutting-edge, environmentally  friendly recycling technologies like constructed wetlands. JNF's goal is to recycle 90% of the waste water in Israel.

Rainwater Harvesting In Schools
JNF supports the implementation of educational programs in Israeli schools to raise awareness about the water crisis, promote conservation, and help students develop skills to address  environmental challenges. The Rainwater Harvesting Program involves installing rooftop water collection systems at schools and a curriculum of water conservation and research. The rain water collected is used for flushing toilets, cleaning, and irrigation, reducing each school’s reliance on scarce and expensive fresh water by 77%. The cost of implementing the  program is $50,000 which covers the construction of the recycling system as well as the operation of the educational program for the first five years. During this period, the schools will save enough money on water-related expenses to enable them to finance the program in the following years, making it self-sustaining.

River Rehabilitation
Nearly all of Israel's rivers and streams have either dried up due to the water shortage or become severely polluted. In 1993, JNF and Israel’s Ministry of the Environment created the  National River Administration, the coordinating body for more than 15 governmental ministries, non-profits, and research organizations charged with overseeing the restoration of Israel’s rivers. This involves reducing pollution, rehabilitating ecosystems, regulating channels to conduct floodwaters, and promoting river recreation, tourism, education and research. More than a dozen rivers and streams in Israel have already benefited from JNF’s efforts. JNF’s work in the area of river rehabilitation was recognized in 2003 when it won the prestigious Australian River-Price Competition for its restoration of the Alexander River, a severely polluted 20-mile stream that runs through Jewish and Arab towns. The project was cited for the thoroughness of the plan and the cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

To augment the Israel Water Authority’s desalination plans, JNF will seek to assist in the establishment of smallscale desalination plants for remote communities. Currently the Fund is  looking to assist in the Central Arava region by building a small desalination plan near Moshav Paran.

Water Importation
The JNF Parsons Water Fund is exploring the feasibility of importing water to Israel from various countries. Even as desalination capacity grows, establishing relationships and  infrastructure for water import would diversify Israel’s water portfolio and can provide a solution for other regions of the world.

The activities of the JNF Parsons Water Fund are monitored, directed and authorized by an Advisory Board, while the Fund Directors are comprised of leading donors, individuals with relevant expertise in or exposure to current and future water-related issues and technologies, or any other individuals recommended by JNF and reporting to JNF’s Board of Directors.

“The activities outlined above will lead to real solutions for Israel’s water economy as well as influence the entire region,” said Dr. Mower. “JNF is looking to use our experience and expertise in water and share our knowledge with the Palestinians, the Jordanians and others. We believe that the solutions for the water crisis can be an opportunity for collaboration between Israel and her neighbors.”

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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