2003 Australia-Israel Hawke Lecture

Water Wise: Learning from the Israeli Experience

Water Wisdom logowith Dr Alon Tal, international environmental and water policy expert

Thursday 30 October 2003


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Israel's experience with water management is characterized by remarkable successes and abysmal failures.

A nation that leads the world in irrigation techniques and desalination has also salinized aquifers and severely contaminated its streams and rivers.

Because of its modest dimensions, the country has had to address water scarcity issues for some time that only now find their way to the Australian agenda. Given the competing claims for water with its neighbours, and since water issues have always held geopolitical dimensions – this adds another dimension to Water issues. Dr Tal’s talk will review some of the major lessons learned during Israel's intense 55 years of hydrological history, from the perspective of politics, policy and technology and the universal lessons the experience holds for reaching a more environmentally sustainable future.

Dr Alon Tal

Dr Alon TalAlon Tal has undergraduate degrees in Political Science and economics From the University of North Carolina and a Law Degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He completed his Masters and doctorate in environmental policy and science at the Harvard School of Public Health where his dissertation research evaluated efforts to reduce agricultural sources of water pollution. 

Dr Tal's career has been a balance between academia and public interest groups, with faculty appointments at Tel Aviv and Hebrew Universities and for nine years an adjunct faculty member at Harvard University.

He was also the founding director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, a public interest law group and is presently chairman of Life and Environment, an umbrella group for eighty environmental organizations in Israel. In 1996, Dr. Tal founded the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, a graduate studies center in which Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian students join environmentalists from around the world in an advanced interdisciplinary research program.

He has served as a consultant for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Israel's Ministry of Environment.

His present research focuses on water policy and legislation where he recently chaired an inter-ministerial commission that proposed several amendments to Israel’s water law.

Dr Tal was also recently appointed to the board of Directors of the Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel – The Jewish National Fund – an organisation that was founded in 1901 and that is today one of the most influential and important environmental organisations in Israel.

Dr Tal’s most recent book, “Pollution in a Promised Land, an Environmental History of Israel” was published by the University of California Press last year.

Alon is currently on sabbatical in New Zealand where he is writing a book on the great environmental speechs of the world. He retains his other positions as member of the KKL Board; Director of the Arava Institute; Chairman of the umbrella organisation of environmental organisations etc.