Small Town, Big Solutions

In Sakhnin - a village in the Lower Galilee you've probably never heard of - grand steps are being taken to tackle one of the environmental movement's most perplexing problems: wastewater treatment.

Sakhnin is located approximately 45 minutes from Tiberias. It rests on the site of the ancient town of Sikhnin, a Jewish village which prospered during Roman rule. Today, the Arab community of Sakhnin is mostly Muslim, though there is a sizable Christian community as well. In fact, visitors can join the locals and worship at the Greek Orthodox church of St. George.

Sakhnin is also known for its premier soccer club, Bnei Sakhnin, one of the first Arab teams to play in the top tier of Israeli soccer. The Bnei Sakhnin holds the honor of being the first Arab team to win the state cup.

Aside from producing star soccer players, Sakhnin is working to produce usable wastewater. The LIFE project was implemented by the Sakhnin Regional Environmental Education and R&D Center of the Town Association for Environmental Quality (TAEQ), of Agan Beit Natufa. The project is also run in cooperation with Istanbul Technical University (ITU), and the main agenda of the program is to deal with wastewater treatment.

Wastewater has tantalized environmentalists for decades - if only there were a way to reuse the water, it could be a boon to the crop growth of arid areas. But of course wastewater is tainted, impure. The mere mention of it causes people to wrinkle their noses. Untreated, the wastewater, or effluent, can cause health problems. Furthermore, it can even damage existing soil and water resources. But - and here's what excites the environmental scientists - if it is properly treated, the effluent may be reused for agricultural purposes, as a substitute for fresh water. Reusing is the number-one priority of the green movement - why throw out what can be repurposed and repackaged? In addition, if the wastewater is treated properly, it can actually reducegreenhouse gases. To an arid region, being able to reuse effluent is like finding stacks of twenties hidden in your sock drawer.

The Sakhnin project entails upgrading the existing wastewater treatment facilities, in order to improve the quality of effluent. The water can then be used for agricultural irrigation (though it is not suitable for drinking water.) In addition to creating treasure from trash, the project is also a model of international cooperation, as the educational and research activities related to the upgrade are carried out by high school and university students from Israel and Turkey. Israel and Turkish scientists have agreed to exchange R&D programs and scientific information.

In 2002, a new ecological building was planned for the Sakhnin Educational Center. Using the age-old adage of practicing what you preach, the design for the building was to include as many energy-saving elements as possible. For example, an internal yard was built to introduce cooler air to the hallways throughout the night. Plants in the yard cast cooling shadows around the main area, so as the outside temperatures rise with the sun, the inside remains cool and inviting. In the mid-afternoon, doors of the rooms facing the main area are opened, to transfer the cooler air from the rooms to the main area. Architects designed the building to work in concert with the natural topography of the area, and the building was constructed using natural building materials, such as local stones, soil, straw, and stabilized lime.

In Sakhnin, one witnesses firsthand what happens when necessity meets inventiveness. Less waste, more water, better crops. Waste not, want not, indeed.