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Routine checks of the quality of the country's drinking water revealed that it continued to improve last year, the Health Ministry claimed yesterday, but it admitted there were local authorities with chronically bad water.

Microbial tests carried out at water sources, at supply points to towns and villages and at points of entry to the water system, revealed that 99.3 percent of the drinking water was fit for consumption in the year 2002.

The water undergoes chemical, microbiological, physical and hydraulic testing. In 84,435 examinations, 0.7 percent (587 samples) were found to be contaminated. In 1991, 6.4 percent of the samples were contaminated, in 2001 this dropped to 2 percent and last year stood at 0.7 percent.

In two places - Kibbutz Huqoq on the Kinneret, and She'ar Yeshuv near Safed - the water was contaminated for prolonged periods.

Other places with water of poor quality were Metzukei Dragot near the Dead Sea, Gesher in the Jordan Valley and Bnei Atarot near Yehud, in the center of the country.

According to engineer Shalom Goldberger of the Health Ministry, the fact that the water quality is not good in small villages is an indication that those communities do not have the financial resources or the infrastructure required.

He said that most of these places had chronic problems that were mentioned in previous reports.

According to the report, 15 local councils failed to carry out the required number of tests of their drinking water, including Betar Ilit, Atlit, Gedera and Or Yehuda.