Israel is experiencing severe water shortages at the moment, though most of the shallow media coverage of the problem completely missed the main reason for the shortages — Israel’s massive subsidies that encourage wasteful water use.
The BBC recently reported that Israeli Water Commissioner Shimon Tal will call for a total ban on watering lawns for the next three years and cut available water supplied to Israeli industry by ten percent. The entire issue is a political hot potato since Israel diverts water from the Palestinian territories to provide it to Jewish settlements.
But the shortages are caused because the government underprices water to farmers. Since the 1960s, Israel has sold waters to farmers at a rate that is 35 percent below what it sells to households and industry (and the price it sells to households and industry is also likely below the market cost of water).
Not surprisingly, agricultural use of water is through the roof, with 500 million cubic meters of subsidized water expected to be used for agriculture in 2001 alone. One of the things driving this use is that much of the subsidized water use in settlements is used for nonagricultural purposes.
Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman wants to scrap the water subsidy, which is really the only way to restore a bit of sanity to Israeli water use. Unfortunately it is likely to be politically unpopular.
Lieberman seeks end to water subsidy for farmers. Amiram Cohen, Ha’aretz, April 16, 2001.
Israel faces water crisis. Paul Wood, The BBC, May 23, 2001.