Recurring droughts or social shifts? Exploring drivers of large-scale transformations in a transformed country

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As climate change intensifies, the need for large-scale transformations that reform vulnerable systems’ prevailing values and development pathways is increasingly recognized. However, there is limited understanding of the factors that underlie such changes. This study sheds light on these factors by examining the case of Israel – a largely arid to semi-arid country with highly scarce natural water resources and a historical rural-agricultural ideology. Adopting an historically-informed systems perspective, I analyze two transformations that diminished Israel's vulnerability to recurring droughts: the 1960s’ economic transformation from agriculture to industry, and the shift to seawater desalination in the mid-2000s. These changes are examined using causal-loop diagrams based on multiple data sources, including archival records, statistical reports and a systematic review of grey and academic literature. The findings show that both transformations, instigated by state institutions during exceptionally severe droughts, were driven by shifts away from development paradigms embedded in the nation-building ideology, as well as by social stresses that exceeded the natural limits of the agricultural system and water supply system. Repeated drought shocks activated and later reactivated the shift to desalination, intended to a certain degree to reduce drought vulnerability. However, drought did not significantly affect the economic transformation, initiated mainly due to saturation in agricultural development. Thus, I argue that alongside concerted adaptation efforts state institutions should dedicate greater attention to the management of broader social challenges and crises in a manner that fosters greater resilience against future climate changes. Ideological shifts and consequent restructuring of development paths, as well as the interaction between population growth and limited natural resources, may constitute important entry points. These entry points are particularly pertinent to emerging economies in other dry areas, many of which face similar social and economic trends to those experienced in Israel over the last decades.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number102157
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Adaptation
  • Agriculture
  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • Transformation
  • Water resources


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