The new home front defense minister, Avi Dichter, will have many important issues to deal with. But the most important could well be the battle over funding for his ministry, including the National Emergency Authority.
The ministry's two main line-item projects - distributing gas masks, and building bomb shelters and reinforcing buildings - are both drawing to a close due to lack of funding, despite not having fully accomplished their goals.
The distribution of gas masks to around 4.5 million Israelis, about 55 percent of the population, is now expected to end next year, earlier than originally scheduled. That project had been allocated a budget of NIS 965 million over five years. But no allocations have been made for equipping the rest of the population with gas masks, despite a cabinet resolution stipulating that every citizen should have one.
In addition, many communities in rocket range of the Gaza Strip have yet to be fully protected. The cabinet decided to reinforce only homes within 4.5 kilometers of the Gaza border. But that left more than 1,000 homes within 4.5 to 7 kilometers from the Strip without adequate protection, despite being well within range of short-range rockets fired from Gaza. The Home Front Defense Ministry has plans in place for reinforcing these additional homes, but not the budget to implement it.
Outgoing minister Matan Vilnai has advocated reinforcing all homes within 15 kilometers of Gaza, a project the cabinet has yet to approve.
In May 2011 the cabinet did allocate NIS 80 million for reinforcing schools within 7-15 kilometers of the Gaza border. But many still lack adequate protection, and their bomb shelters are too small to hold all their students. Last year Haaretz reported that more than 200 schools within rocket range of Gaza are not reinforced.
Last week the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved an amendment making local authorities responsible for maintaining bomb shelters. But the Home Front Defense Ministry will remain responsible for enforcing this law, and thus for ensuring that communal bomb shelters are in fact properly maintained.
Another important job is protecting vital infrastructure to make sure it continues functioning during emergencies. In June the Knesset Finance Committee allocated NIS 20 million for this purpose, but the ministry has not yet received the funds.
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