COVID-19: Research updates

The Arava Institute has maintained a relatively high level of activity in our research centers and other departments throughout the pandemic. Here is a quick rundown of the progress made over the past few months:

  • Center for Transboundary Water Management (CTWM) – In the middle of the crisis, CTWM managed to install a second Vertical Green Wall Wastewater Treatment and Reuse System in Um Battin outside of Beer Sheva. In addition, Dr. Clive Lipchin is now exploring the possibility of testing sewage water to measure the level of COVID-19 infection in a community before members of the community are symptomatic.
  • Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) – Having suffered major damage from a number of extreme storms during the spring, the team has been working hard to fix the damage, finish the work on The Shelter Garden for Endangered Desert Flora, in honor of Sonia Twite, and replace dead Argan trees with new saplings. Students have been voluntarily coming down to the experimental orchard to plant trees and help with the repair work.
  • Center for Renewable Energy & Energy Conservation (CREEC) – Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed has been working with partners at the Dead Sea Arava Science Center and the University of Arizona to develop a proposal for an initiative called Agrovoltaics, which looks at the efficacy of growing plants in shade created by solar panels in open fields. This is an area which the University of Arizona has been studying for years; there is now an agreement to run a pilot research project in the Arava. The research will be funded by the new JNF Joint Institute for Global Food, Water and Energy Security.
  • Track II Environmental Forum – While the pandemic prevented face-to-face meetings with our Palestinian colleagues, the fact that we moved all meetings (and not some meetings as before) to Zoom created some efficiencies. We were able to move forward on a number of projects:
    • We are in the process of purchasing a second atmospheric water generator from Watergen, the Israeli company that supplied the first 800 liter a day unit to Abassan Al-Kabira. The second much larger unit, which produces 5,000 liters a day of drinking water, will be delivered to the second largest hospital in Gaza City.
    • The Arava Institute placed the order for a neighborhood mobile wastewater treatment system with a Palestinian company, PalSolar, which is having the system built in Turkey and will then be brought to Abassan Al-Kabira, Gaza, hopefully by June. The system will process about 100 cubic meters of sewage water per day (servicing about 1,000 people in the village) and the water will be sold by the municipality to local farmers for agricultural use.
    • The Charcoal Project team has identified a site in Taybe to run a pilot charcoal project test in order to make sure that the “green kiln” will meet Israeli emissions standards. The representatives of the Israeli Ministry of Environment have expressed support for the pilot and the Farmers Rights and Save the Environment Center in Yabed, Palestine, are full partners.
    • The Young Professionals Forum (YPF) has become especially active during this period when everyone is sheltering in place. Taking advantage of the shutdown, the YPF team has initiated weekly Zoom meetings for a very active and nationally diverse group of young professionals. The programs have included discussions, brainstorming, and capacity-building workshops. A number of Arava Institute alumni are active in this network.
    • Another recent Track II initiative began when the Israeli head of the Sha’ar HaNegev regional council, which borders Gaza, reached out to the Arava Institute asking us to help them implement their long-term strategy of building bridges and positive relations with their Palestinian neighbors. Understanding that neither population is going anywhere and that neither population will be able to flourish if their neighbors suffer, the council asked the Arava Institute to help them connect to residents in Gaza. We convened a meeting of the regional council staff and our Palestinian partners, Damour, and decided on a number of positive steps, which included a mask production project as an immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis and longer-term plans.

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