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Saturday, 24 June, 2000, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Israel faces water crisis
The Manavgat river
Turkey hopes to supply water to the parched Middle East
Israel is facing one of its worst ever water shortages, with officials warning that urgent measures are needed to prevent an unprecedented crisis.

An Israeli delegation has been holding talks in Turkey to negotiate water imports, and officials on both sides have reported progress towards such a deal.

Amos Epstein, president of Israel's state-controlled Mekorot Water Company, said the situation was "catastrophic".

Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee: A vital resource for Israel

"If we don't take care immediately of the possibility of importing water or any other alternative quickly... we could be in a crisis in 2001 that no one could describe," he said.

Water is a key issue in the Middle East peace talks, and Palestinian officials say Israel must release water and change the way it uses the precious commodity as part of any peace deal.

Golan Heights

Israel gets as much as 30% of its water from the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.

Handing over the Heights might bring Syria back to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which, despite its name, is a lake where much of the Golan's water collects.

Turkey already delivers water by tanker to the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and hopes to sell water to Israel, Jordan, Malta, Cyprus and Crete.

Map showing Israel, Lebanon, Syria with water resources

Ram Aviram, a water official from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the Israeli delegation visited a Turkish water purification plant on the Manavgat river, 80 km (50 miles) east of the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya.

"We are very impressed," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying after the visit.

"We have declared that we can sell water to whichever country needs water, regardless of its language or flag," said Turkish Energy Minister Cumhur Ersumer.

"It looks like Israel will be the first country to buy Turkey's water."

Price tag

However, there appears to have been no agreement on the price tag for the water.

Israeli officials said Israel would insist that the price should not exceed the cost of desalinating sea water and that the contract cover a period no longer than five years, with an option for five more years.

The Manavgat plant has a capacity of 180 million cubic metres (6.357 bn cubic feet) of total fresh water a year.

The water can be piped on board converted oil tankers moored offshore and then shipped around the region.

One Israeli official in the delegation was quoted as saying Israel needed to import up to 200 million cubic metres of water.

However, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported concerns among Israeli officials about the country becoming dependent on imports of such a vital resource.

Israel's National Infrastructure Ministry wants to ban watering gardens and hosing down cars and is urging farmers to use recycled water.

'Drastic measures'

Dr Amikam Nachmani, a water specialist at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, said the situation was "worse than ever before," and the country was heading towards "drastic measures".

Jordan and the Palestinians have also been investigating the possibility of buying Turkish water.

Israel is obliged to supply water to Jordan under their peace treaty, and Syria has supplied water to Jordan, but these are not commercial transactions.

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See also:

19 Jun 00 | Media reports
Israel water 'crisis' looms
28 Mar 00 | Europe
Turkey to dip into water market
13 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Water arithmetic 'doesn't add up'
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