Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Conquering the Desert

One of the great miracles of the State of Israel has been its ability to transform desert into blooming arable land. In 1867 Mark Twain described the land in one of his memoirs: “The further we went the hotter the sun got and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became… There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

Today is marked by the United Nations as the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. This battle against desertification and drought is one that Israel has fought from even before statehood and, as a general statement, has won - although there is much ongoing research for better ways to irrigate the land and help it flourish.

Much of the credit for Israel’s success in making it’s dry soil crop worthy goes to Simcha Blass (1897-1982), a Warsaw-born engineer. In the pre-state land of Israel, Blass planned an aqueduct for the Jordan Valley and a pipeline to the Negev that enabled 11 new settlements to open. Along with Levi Eshkol, he founded the Mekorot water company. Most significantly, Blass developed a new system of Drip Irrigation, through which small drops of water are released through larger and longer passageways (rather than tiny holes) by using friction to slow water inside a plastic emitter. In 1965, Blass and his son Yeshayahu brought their system to Kibbutz Hatzerim in the Negev Dessert and proved that they could make the desert bloom. The Drip Irrigation system is used throughout the world today.

The struggle against desertification requires creativity, technology and ingenuity and is a constant subject of research in the State of Israel.


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