pollution - Baz Ratner - August 31 2010
Haifa Bay Photo by Baz Ratner
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Although Israel reduced pollution and increased recycling over the past decade, its natural resources, including fishing reserves and water sources, are being depleted fast, a report compiled by the Ministry for Environmental Protection said.

The report, which utilizes data from all the relevant government organizations, will be presented to an OECD delegation that is now in Israel to examine its ecological situation.

"This is the first document of its kind, and will enable us to increase the public's trust in the ministry," said Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan. He added that the ministry intends to expand and update the document in the future.

The report shows that overall, less pollution is being emitted into the environment than 10 years ago, with the volume of pollutants entering rivers and streams down by as much as 70 percent. The most notable drops were registered in the Kishon and Yarkon rivers. In the Kishon, the amount of phosphorous leaked into the river by Haifa Chemicals dropped from 3,000 tons to just 3.9 tons. The volume of toxic metals reaching the sea from Israel dropped by 72.9 percent.

But the report neglects to mention that many Israeli citizens are exposed to extreme pollution, especially unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and Arab villages in the north, which lack sewage treatment facilities and often either contain or are located near illegal landfills.

"There's certainly progress in dealing with environmental pollution," said Dr. Yehoshua Bar-Or, the ministry's chief scientist, who coordinated the report's compilation. "There are still problems, like insufficient progress in air quality in urban areas, but we foresee improvement in places like Haifa Bay, where natural gas will soon come into use at factories and power plants."

However, he added, "I'm less optimistic about the pollution of water sources. There's already plenty of pollution in the soil, and it's on its way to the groundwater. Health Ministry findings indicate that many freshly drilled wells are already polluted to some degree, and it's only reasonable to assume the pollution will grow."

The report found soil pollution in 1,200 different sites, but noted that tens of thousands of such sites probably exist. A whopping 93 percent of all gas stations were found to be polluting the soil, and 35 percent were polluting the groundwater. On the up side, however, these sites are now undergoing an accelerated rehabilitation process.

Intensified development and the rise in living standards are also causing extensive harm to nature, by breaking the natural landscape up into isolated enclaves. Moreover, every fifth species of wild ground animal and wild plant is threatened with extinction.

Lake Kinneret's stock of fish has dropped from more than 2,000 tons a year at the end of the previous decade to a mere 200 tons in 2008. Fishing in the lake was therefore banned last year.

Israeli species are also under attack from invaders, with 50 invasive plant species and 124 invasive insect species having been registered.