[The following is an excerpt from a UN report on Israel’s efforts to combat desertification]
Some 95% of Israel is dry sub-humid, semi-arid, arid or hyper-arid, with 60% of the country’s land area is covered by the Negev Desert. Thus Israelis almost entirely comprised of drylands accompanied by the ever-present threats of soil degradation and desertification.
Israel has taken a number of countermeasures during the past several years that strengthen its efforts to address the desertification processes. Most of these activities were part of planning, environmental, and development strategies or policies for the sustainable use of natural resources. The majority were not specifically directed towards implementing a comprehensive national strategy to combat desertification. Nonetheless, they frequently make a significant contribution to Israel’s ongoing efforts to reduce erosion, increase the productivity of lands in the semi-arid drylands, ensure agricultural yields in general, and promote afforestation efforts throughout the country.
The following are some of the major programs which have been implemented in each of the country’s dryland types:
Arid and hyper-arid drylands: flood control, water harvesting, effluent treatment and reuse of treated wastewater for crop irrigation and landscaping; management of natural vegetation and applied agricultural crops including techniques such as drought and saline resistant crops and greenhouse agriculture.
Semi-arid drylands: control of free-ranging livestock herds and afforestation to prevent soil erosion, restoration of aquifer recharge, and development of fish farming with saline groundwater as well as establishment of orchards irrigated by treated wastewater transported from densely populated parts of the country.
Dry sub-humid drylands: remediation of salinized agricultural lands and management of water resources to prevent pollution and promote conservation.
Dryland productively has largely been achieved through substantial investment in scientific research – in soil, climate, agriculture, forestry and ecological sciences. To a great extent, Israeli’s program for combating desertification is based on sustainable agricultural development through centralized national water management that includes: transportation of water from regions of relative water abundance to regions of water shortage; storage during years of abundance for use in years of drought; reuse of treated wastewater for agriculture, cultivation of crops adapted to different water qualities and to the specific local climate and soil conditions. Afforestation of semi-arid lands is another central element in the national strategy. These have been supplemented by water conservation measures based on the implementation of subsurface drip irrigation and fertigation technologies as well as technologies to reduce water loss by evaporation to prevent salt accumulation on the surface and in the root zone of crops.
In light of the fact that less than 50% of the rainwater in the Negev permeates into the underground water table and most flows down gullies into the sea, new methods have been developed for flood prevention as well as water harvesting and conservation. Dams and reservoirs have been constructed to capture runoff water, arrest the velocity and quantities of floodwater, replenish underground aquifers and create tourism and recreation sites.
To overcome the effect of minimal rainfall and extreme temperature variation in the desert, a wide variety of innovative agro-technology systems have been developed. Runoff and rainfall catchment basins have enabled the development of agroforestry in areas with insufficient rainfall. By reducing the evaporation, new subsurface drip irrigation technologies improve the efficiencies and productivity of conventional drip irrigation. Savannization techniques utilize runoff harvest, contour furrows and afforestation to increase productivity and reverse desertification.
Recycled wastewater, which is unusable for irrigating agricultural crops, is utilized to irrigate groves and parks in semi-arid areas, while brackish water is used for salt-tolerant crops and trees in recreation areas. Additional research efforts have led to the identification of crops and technologies that allow agricultural production with water containing up to 4000 ppm salts, thus opening up new horizons for saline water-based agriculture in the desert.
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