A member of IsraAid helping out local residents in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of IsraAID.
When 22-year-old Emmannuel Buso was pulled barely-alive from the rubble of a three-story building 10 days after an earthquake devastated the island of Haiti, the first faces he saw were those of the Israeli rescue workers who had flown across the world to save lives.
For Haji Edum, from Zanzibar, his life-saving moment came twice, when he was flown at age 15, and then again at 23, to Israel for open-heart surgery. He is just one of thousands of youngsters to receive emergency heart care from volunteer doctors in Israel.
War veterans suffering post-traumatic stress in the US; farmers in Senegal, India and China; young women in South Sudan; the wheelchair-bound in Africa; cardiac patients in Gaza and Iraq – all have received life-changing help and expertise from Israeli specialists.
Today we all know the story of Israel the startup nation. News of its technological prowess and incredible innovation has spread far and wide. But what many people don’t know is that Israel is exporting far more than just technology. It is also sharing its experience and skills in a whole range of humanitarian and environmental fields to help people everywhere live better, fuller and healthier lives.
Since Israel was founded in 1948, the country has set itself the goal of becoming a light unto the nations. In the early years of the state, despite austerity rationing, the Israeli government founded MASHAV, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Center for International Cooperation, as a vehicle to share Israel’s creative solutions with the rest of the developing world.
Israel remains true to that vision and every year, with little fanfare, and sometimes very little press attention, Israelis work long hours to find solutions and offer relief to some of the most pressing problems of our times.
From environmental breakthroughs that will help reduce greenhouse emissions, to technologies that can increase food production and save vital crops, to humanitarian aid missions in the wake of catastrophic natural disasters, Israelis are providing significant assistance.
To celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, ISRAEL21c takes a look at some of the many creative and varied ways Israel is helping to enrich and improve our planet.
The list comes in no particular order, and is by no means exhaustive. There are hundreds, if not thousands, more worthy projects going on every day. If you’ve got a project worth hearing about, we’d be delighted if you include it in our comments section at the end.
1. An Israeli company is developing a toilet that needs no water, and generates its own power to turn solid waste (including toilet roll) into sterile and odorless fertilizer in 30 seconds. Liquid waste is sterilized and then used to flush the toilet. Developer Paulee CleanTec has been awarded a grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which reports that about 80 percent of human waste goes into rivers and streams untreated, and 1.1 billion people don’t use a toilet.
2. Fifty years ago, Lake Victoria carp was a significant part of the diet of Ugandan villagers. But when Nile perch was introduced to the lake, it decimated the carp population. Villagers had neither the equipment nor the expertise to catch the huge perch, and symptoms of protein deficiency started becoming apparent in their children.
Prof. Berta Sivan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem came to the rescue with a multiyear project to help these African families. Using expertise developed in Israel, her project not only successfully spawned carp on Ugandan fish farms, but also provided training on how to dig and fill ponds and raise the small fish. Now local children have an abundant supply of protein.
3. About 50 percent of every grain and pulse harvest in the developing world is lost to pests and mold, but an Israeli scientist has developed a surprisingly simple and cheap way for African and Asian farmers to keep their grain market-fresh. International food technology consultant Prof. Shlomo Navarro invented huge bags, now marketed by US company GrainPro, which keep both water and air out. The bags are in use all over the developing world, including Africa and the Far East, and even in countries that don’t have diplomatic ties with Israel.
4. In January 2010, Israel won international praise for the speed and expertise with which it responded to a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti that killed 300,000 people, injured hundreds of thousands and laid waste to the poverty-stricken country.
A team of 240 Israeli doctors, nurses, rescue and relief workers arrived in Haiti just days after the quake, bringing medicines, communications and medical equipment. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) volunteers set up the country’s most advanced and well-equipped field hospital in the capital of Port-Au-Prince. Israeli search-and-rescue missions pulled survivors from the rubble, saving many Haitians, including a man trapped for 10 days.
The delegation included volunteers from IsraAID, the IDF, ZAKA, Magen David Adom (MADA), Tevel B’Tzedek, the Negev Institute, and Alyn Hospital. It was the largest Israeli civilian relief mission ever assembled, and was one of the biggest and most skilled on the island.
In the wake of the disaster, Israel continues to send aid and assistance, including educational projects, trauma programs, micro-financing, development and relief work, rebuilding of communities and schools, aid packages, empowerment for women, and medical assistance.
5. The invention of drip irrigation by Israeli Simcha Blass and its development by Netafim, and later Plastro and NaanDan Jain, has completely revolutionized agriculture across the world, enabling farmers to increase their yields with less water. Constantly upgraded Israeli drip-irrigation techniques are regularly shared with other countries through MASHAV, Israel’s Center for International Cooperation.
6. Tal-Ya Water Technologies has developed reusable plastic trays to collect dew from the air, reducing the water needed by crops or trees by up to 50 percent. The square serrated trays, made from non-PET recycled and recyclable plastic with UV filters and a limestone additive, surround each plant or tree. With overnight temperature change, dew forms on both surfaces of the Tal-Ya tray, which funnels the dew and condensation straight to the roots. If it rains, the trays – which are now on sale – heighten the effect of each millimeter of water 27 times over.
7. About 1.6 million children under the age of five die from untreated drinking water in developing nations every year. An Israeli company has developed a water purification system that delivers safe drinking water from almost any source, including contaminated water, seawater and even urine.
WaterSheer’s Sulis personal water purifier is a small 10-gram mouthpiece that attaches to the top of a water bottle. The company has also developed systems to treat large quantities of water.
Sulis has been used in Taiwan, Myanmar and Haiti, and will be part of contingency plans in case of disaster at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
8. Israel is building a model agricultural village in South Sudan to teach local farmers about Israeli agricultural methods and technologies to help the fledgling African nation thrive.
9. In plants in China, Italy and the United States, Israeli company Seambiotic is using algae to turn carbon dioxide emitted by power plants into fuel and nutraceuticals. The company’s algae ponds, which are nourished by power plant effluent and sunlight, generate 30 times more feedstock for biofuel than do crop alternatives. The algae are a good source of valuable nutraceuticals, especially popular in China and the East.
Seambiotic is also working with the US National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA) to develop a commercially feasible biofuel variety from algae that has a higher freezing point than biofuels from corn or sugarcane.
10. The lives of thousands of endangered animals in West and Central Africa are being saved thanks to the tireless efforts of Israeli law enforcement activist Ofir Drori, who founded the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) in Cameroon, the first wildlife law-enforcement NGO in Africa.
The organization helped propagate a zero-tolerance approach to illegal wildlife trafficking in Cameroon, which has resulted in hundreds of arrests and prosecutions. The model has been replicated throughout West and Central Africa in activities that go beyond nature conservation to the defense of human rights.