Over 3,000 years ago not many kilometres from West of Kibbutz Kalia near the Dead Sea, the Children of Israel crossed River Jordan into the promised Land”, a land flowing with milk and honey but not water where rainfall is about 40 mm a year.
These are the words of Amb Gil Haskel, the former Israeli Ambassador to Kenya as he addressed the Kenyan delegation led by President Uhuru Kenyatta as we visited Kenyan students in the desert.
But over the years, the Israelis have turned Israel from chronically water insecure country to a water/food secure and surplus country exporting water and food to Jordan and Palestine.
Amb Gil, who is also the Head of MASHAV that is in charge of Foreign Aid, and Hon Uri Ariel, the Israeli Minister for Agriculture, told us that Israel changed its water and food fortunes after realising that rain-fed agriculture was not sustainable and turned to irrigated agriculture.
Israel stopped waiting for rain and water from the Sea of Galilee and turned salty water of the Mediterranean Sea and through desalination plants at Sorek, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Hadeira, Palmichim and waste-water re-cycling gave its citizens millions of cubic metres of water in excess of their needs.
With enough water for domestic and industrial use, Israel pumped millions of cubic metres of water into its dry lands and through irrigation, turned the desert green and produced enough food for its national consumption as well as export.
It invested in and developed technology and human resources to a higher degree than many countries and today, boasts of being the water and irrigation superpower of the world and the No. 1 country in the world in waste-water managed at 90 per cent.
On behalf of the Kenyan delegation, President Uhuru Kenyatta made a promise of bringing about a paradigm shift from rain-fed agriculture to irrigated agriculture that will remove Kenya from the yoke of food and water insecurity by rapidly increasing the acreage under irrigation to over a million acres while equally building local capacity through technical training in collaboration with Israel through MASHAV in line with Vision 2030.
In this regard, Kenya has entered into a pact with Israel to double the intake of Kenyan students under this programme from the current 600 to 1,200 over the next six years. On its part, Israel promised to provide assistance through:
i) Doubling the number of Kenyans training in Israel and also establishing the Irrigation and Water Engineering Institute in Kenya to give the country technical capability as its increases its acreage under irrigation to over a million;
ii) Transferring Israeli technology and knowledge to Kenya and giving financial and logistical support as well as direct Israeli investment by Private Sector in the Galana Project;
iii) Continuing to support small-holder irrigation schemes and reviving some that had collapsed like the one in Kibwezi and new ones in Ukambani and other semi-arid areas;
iv) Providing technical support to the recently-established Category 2 Groundwater Centre for Regional Studies to enhance access to clean water for all Kenyans through exploiting the great groundwater potential that Kenya has;
v) Partnering with Kenya in developing the great potential that Kenya has on its 500km Coast from Vanga to Kiunga turning the salty sea waters of the Indian Ocean through desalination into millions of cubic metres of fresh water;
vi) Supporting Kenya’s new Water for Schools Programme that will soon be launched to connect all our public schools to water;
To this end, Kenya and Israel signed a 10-point Declaration that will see the two countries deepen and widen their cooperation in the water and irrigation sector, dubbed the Jerusalem Declaration. To ensure the implementation of the Jerusalem Declaration, a joint steering committee was formed.
The committee was given until July 2016 to ensure implementation of the same before the expected historic visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in July this year.