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"Water Water Everywhere Nor Any Drop To Drink"

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Can Sabras teach the South East how to save on water?

"Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink". The famed line of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner might be truer than we think.

Water is everywhere and yet it remains a major challenge facing the world. With an estimated one billion people in emerging markets lacking access to safe water supply, waste water treatment is a massive market. Meanwhile, population growth and urbanisation are placing pressure on water supplies in the developed world and creating opportunities in cities for technologies in water metering, pipes, pumps and irrigation techniques.

Described by Clean Tech magazine as the 'Silicon Valley of Water', Israel has placed water technology at the forefront of its economy ever since the state's inception. In 2006 the Israeli government launched the NEWTech (Novel Efficient Water Technologies) programme, focusing on desalination, desert agriculture, water purification, irrigation, sewage treatment and waste water recycling. Israel already has three of the world's largest desalination plants, owned as joint corporate ventures, and plans to build two more.

When it comes to recycling water and preservation, Israel is a visionary way ahead of its peers. Water consumption in Israel has not grown in forty years, despite the population having more than doubled from three to over seven and a half million. Israel typically recycles 75% of its waste water, making it a world leader; the closest competitor is Spain, at just 12%.

What's striking about Israel is the ability to take problems, like the lack of natural water, and turn them into assets. The history of Israeli water innovation is an interesting one as Dan Senor and Saul Singer describe in "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle". In 1965 a water engineer named Simcha Blass got the idea for drip irrigation from a tree growing in a friend's backyard, seemingly without water. It turned out that the tree was being supplied with water from a slow leak in an underground water pipe. Blass patented his invention and approached Kibbutz Hatzerim with the idea of producing the new technology. This was the beginning of global drip irrigation company Netafim, which developed a way to increase crop yields by up to 50 per cent while using 40 per cent less water. Netafim's other advantage was reaching out to foreign markets that desperately needed its products, but in places where Western entrepreneurs did not visit in the 1960s and '70s. Netafim now has more than 2,000 employees at 13 plants in 11 countries, including four plants in Israel, over 30 subsidiaries and representative offices in over 110 countries. In June this year European Private Equity firm Permira took the plunge, acquiring 61 per cent of Netafim at a company value of $900 million in cash and assumption of loans.

Increasing numbers of foreign companies are turning to innovative Israeli high-tech water-saving solutions to solve problems closer to home. British water companies are looking to Israel for help to combat water loss through leaky pipes, better water treatment and new solutions for water management in agriculture and irrigation technologies. One such water-saving device is Atlantium's highly effective UV disinfectant, which is beginning to replace pasteurisation as the preferred method of disinfectant for dairy products in the United States. New technologies in wastewater treatment include ozone treatment, ultraviolet radiation and membrane filters. In November UK ISRAEL BUSINESS will be taking a delegation of British entrepreneurs who are keen to invest in these new technologies to WATECH 2011, a convention of clean technology companies with a showcase of leading water solution products.

By entering into partnerships with Israeli companies, the UK can address its own deficiencies in water technology, such as frequent droughts in the south east and the comparatively low amount of recycled sewage water. In return, Israel can benefit from the UK's own state of the art technology, and increased trade. With clean-tech British businesses at the forefront of financial growth, UK water companies look likely to bite.