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The social-economic cabinet decided yesterday to implement a comprehensive plan to address the water crisis facing the country and to develop water technology over the next three years. The ministers appropriated NIS 93 million to an ambitious plan aimed at helping the Israeli water sector to make the transition from research and development to production and marketing to become a key player in the global water industry.

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The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, Eli Yishai, is to coordinate the program and report to the cabinet annually. In 2011 the state will conduct an audit to determine whether the program met its goals and to decide its future.

At yesterday's meeting the Industry and Trade Ministry director general and the chief scientist were appointed to head a steering committee with representatives from the Water Authority and from the finance, national infrastructures and development of the Negev and Galilee ministries. The chief scientist will also head up an academic steering committee for the water program.

Several measures designed to boost academic research into water technologies were approved. These include the establishment of a national water technology center at Sde Boker and water-oriented technology incubators as well as the allocation of NIS 6 million for cooperation between academia and industry in the water sector. In addition, the Council for Higher Education is to encourage the study of water technology.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On told the ministers that Israel has accrued a great deal of experience in dealing with the challenge of a water shortage and is at the front line in finding solutions to a lack of water. Bar-On added that Israel should lead the global water sector.

The plan approved by the cabinet is to serve as an engine for economic development focused on outlying areas and to provide solutions for Israel and for other countries.

At a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee yesterday, National Infrastructures Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said: "We are in the midst of an unprecedented water crisis. The 2007-2008 winter was so dry that precipitation averaged 65 percent below the multi-year average. The likelihood of four consecutive years of drought with one year that dry is just 2 percent, and the water level in Lake Kinneret will decline to one meter below the lower red line."

Dudi Koichmeister, CEO of Hagihon, the Jerusalem municipal water corporation, told the State Control Committee that the "national forum of municipal water corporations welcomes the decision to create a committee to examine the water crisis. The forum suggests the committee focus on examining the failures in implementing a series of programs designed in the past to handle the expected water crisis."