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Israel in Africa

A growing number of countries in Africa craves and welcomes Israel’s assistance, particularly in the fields of agriculture, water, medicine and technology.  Travel around Africa, as so many do today, and it’s very likely that wherever you go there will be signs of Israeli help, coming not only from the Israeli government but from large corporations, NGOs, private bodies and individuals.  This is indisputably an element of the ethos of tikkun olam, or healing the nation, which informs so much of how Israel and the Jewish people in general conduct their lives.

MASHAV, which is Israel’s Agency for International Development Co-operation, is a branch of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and according to the MFA website “believes that its greatest possible contribution to developing countries can be made in fields where Israel has relevant expertise accumulated during its own development experience as a young country facing similar challenges.”  It operates not only in Africa but in Asia and the Middle East, in parts of the world where the need is greatest but the infrastructure weakest.

Because Israel has unrivalled expertise in so wide a variety of sectors, MASHAV sends specialists and experts in these fields into the developing countries to train and educate the local citizens and give them to tools to improve their lives, their communities and ultimately their countries.  But it’s not a case merely of imposing skills on people: consultation and collaboration with the local people is a vital prerequisite for the success of any such venture, given that what works in one country or with one community may not be suitable for another.

Its website continues, “MASHAV prefers small-scale activities aimed at “bottom-up”, community-driven development. MASHAV endeavours to identify relevant micro-project activities that can serve as a catalyst for wider-scale development, targeting the grassroots in many of our activities.” At the same time it seeks to work with other development agencies already in the identified country, sharing its expertise in the particular fields and in this way creating stronger bonds of cooperation between Israel and the countries receiving this invaluable assistance.

Of all of Africa’s multifarious needs, one seems to stand out more than most: that of sustaining agricultural output due to increasingly unreliable rains.  So much of the continent is drought-intensive, and irrigation and water management are vital.  Israel is the only country in the world that has been able to conquer the desert, and her strengths are water infrastructure, drip irrigation systems and water recycling methods. Israel uses recycled water, desalinated water, rain water and salty water.  Advances in technology have allowed Israeli farmers to use 30% less water while almost doubling their crop output over the last decade, leaving the country with a considerable food surplus.   With tens of millions of Africans facing starvation annually because of hostile climatic environments, Israel’s knowledge, training and assistance are priceless and immeasurable.

Using as its foundation the Africa Market Garden concept, MASHAV developed Techno-Agriculture Innovation for Poverty Alleviation, or TIPA, a simple, innovative technique, and introduced it into semi-arid regions in countries like South Africa and Senegal. The TIPA concept consists of a cooperative of a number of farmers, based in an assigned area, where farmers manage their own plots installed with the drip irrigation system.  Its success has been overwhelming.

All this is part of Israel’s ongoing effort to share its agricultural expertise with African countries looking to raise farm productivity and reduce their dependence on imports.

MASHAV also holds intensive training courses, both in Israel and in the countries it is helping, to impart more skills to those who are responsible for the welfare of the populace.  Some of these are dedicated to early childhood development; the empowerment of women; entrepreneurship in education; agricultural training; the importance of renewable energy; water management and how to use water effectively, especially in drought areas; and implementing effective public health measures.  These are perennial measures, and the changes that have been effected to date in some of the African countries have already made a huge difference to large swathes of rural communities. Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Malawi among others are avid fans of what Israel has to offer them to help raise their living standards.

Internationally recognised and lauded, Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) is an Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of paediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease and to create centres of competence in these countries. The group of doctors and medical professionals who volunteer their time and skills to administer life-saving heart treatment to thousands of children across Africa – as well as the Middle East and Asia – also carries out intensive training of local doctors to allow them to perform these crucial medical procedures.  In most cases one or more of the local doctors and other team members will have spent time in Israel receiving the necessary training, and on their return, they will be accompanied by a specialist team of Israeli doctors who will remain in the country until assured that all surgery will be done effectively and efficiently.  Again a transfer of invaluable skills, allowing the home country doctors to practise with confidence and, where possible, to establish new paediatric heart treatment centres to serve the local populace.

The SACH mission statement is dedicated to the notion that “every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child’s nationality, religion, colour, gender or financial situation”.  From small volunteer beginnings, it has today become one of the largest such programmes in the world, providing urgently needed paediatric heart surgery and follow-up care for indigent children from developing countries.

South Africa has the highest number of AIDS patients in the world; and the African continent is more vulnerable than any other to the spread of the disease.  Countless initiatives have been started and millions of dollars have been pumped into these initiatives. Yet it was an Israeli AIDS prevention advocate who came up with the simple idea that circumcision could cut down the spread of AIDS drastically in the homes of most of its victims.

The Jerusalem AIDS Project was established in 1988; and recently its Director of International Affairs, Inon Schenker, stated that circumcision could prevent the virus by as much as 60% in heterosexual couples in Africa.  There are not nearly enough trained surgeons to carry out the millions of operations needed on the continent; but in 2009 four Israelis, one a urologist who heard the plea for surgeons in Africa, invented a device called the PrePex, a remarkably simple device made of rubber bands that obviates the need for anesthesia, stitches or a sterile setting.  The device, which can be placed and removed in minutes by trained nurses, could increase circumcisions to 400 a day, compared to the current 60 to 80; and having been approved by the American FDA, it could be fundamental in helping reduce the scourge of this devastating disease across the continent.

Students from the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya (IDC) have started an agricultural technology business called Aqua Zai, whose purpose is to develop an easier method for farmers in developing nations to preserve and utilize water. This will enable them to produce more crops, store more food, and have enough throughout the year instead of living off of day-to-day farming. The newly grown healthy food will be sold at an affordable price in the urban slum areas where the rate of global hunger is rapidly increasing.

Aqua Zai has also designed the mobile “Zai Hopper” to transport the freshly grown food from the zai farm to distribution points in the slums, so that residents will be able to purchase clean and affordable food. The Zai Hopper is a simple machine based on fundamental farming technology and railroad grain cars.

Israel regularly receives requests for various forms of disaster and other aid from African countries such as the Central African, Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya and Ethiopia.  No request is turned down; and as Israel cements its footprint on the continent, more and more of the world’s people come to realise the boundless worth of this tiny country.


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