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University of Birmingham scientists tackle water shortages in Palestine

November 4, 2019 at 3:15 pm

Palestinian farmers are seen during harvest season in the Jordan Valley on 19 January 2015 [Shadi Hatem/Apaimages]

Palestinian farmers could overcome problems with water shortages to allow their crops to grow more efficiently using a new technology powered by solar energy.

The equipment, which enables users to remove salt from seawater using a process known as desalination, has been built by University of Birmingham scientists who collaborated with international students and academics from Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

The prototype system is currently being trialed in the UK and Israel, with field tests soon to begin in Palestine.

Programme leader Philip Davies from the University of Birmingham said: “Our work demonstrates a successful example of researchers and students working across borders to create easily deployable technology that is solar powered and helps to conserve precious groundwater.”

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“The system can be readily implemented with levels of engineering expertise available in many areas of the world. This research and development programme demonstrates a valuable approach in regions facing transboundary water challenges. The achievements of this project have been possible because of coordinated efforts among UK, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian scientists.”

The Jordan River Basin of which 40 per cent is located in Jordan, 37 per cent in Israel, ten per cent in the Syrian Arab Republic and nine per cent in the occupied West Bank, is a problematic area in terms of water management for agriculture.

International agreements limit access to groundwater for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank.

According to a report by the European Parliament, water consumption by Israelis and Palestinians reflects stark inequalities. Due to the allocations of trans-boundary water resources agreed under Oslo II, Israel currently controls approximately 80 per cent of water reserves in the occupied West Bank.

Moreover, beyond what is permitted by the international community under Oslo, Israel frequently seizes water resources in areas outside its jurisdiction for opportunities to expand its illegal settlements.

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In addition, the professor explained how poor management has led to over-pumping, with record highs of water salinity leading to changes in cropping patterns.

Cash crops intolerant to salinity have been replaced by 250,000 date palms that require large quantities of water and could cause groundwater supplies to “run out within five years”. Desalination, he explained, can be energy intensive and costly.

Therefore, the use of solar energy can be an affordable alternative, which can be built with “off-the-shelf parts” according to professor Davies.

“The approach described here may be applied, not only in Jordan Valley, but also in other regions where transboundary water resources are increasingly depleted and affected by salinisation.”