500,000 Homes Not Linked to Sewage System

The Water Authority likes to boast of Israel's international achievements in water treatment and the use of recycled wastewater. But a report released yesterday by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'Din) suggests otherwise.

Some 500,000 Israeli homes are not linked to a central sewage system, the report said. Moreover, refuse pollutes more than 800 kilometers of streams, and wastewater equal to all the water Israel desalinates goes unused.

The Water Authority vehemently denied these claims.

The union's annual "Environmental Poverty" report discusses the links between social and environmental problems. Yesterday's report, covering 2009, focused on some 150 communities that have no sewage hook-ups. Thus all their waste goes into the environment, or into cesspits.

The vast majority of these communities are Arab. Yet the 10 most problematic also include Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ariel, both of which pour some of their refuse into streams.

The organization claims that every year, 180 million cubic meters of refuse are wasted, even though it is treated and could be reused in some fashion.

Moreover, sewage-related problems are not confined to poor communities that lack adequate infrastructure.

"We suffer headaches, dizziness and burning eyes because of the smells from the purification plant," Shlomit Leibowitz of Hod Hasharon told a tour organized by the union. "Sometimes this happens day after day."

And in Taibeh, sewage flows in the streets, posing a serious health hazard.

"It's clear that in a city like Hod Hasharon, they will eventually find a solution to the problem," said Amit Bracha, the union's director. "In places like Taibeh, the task is more difficult."

In response, the Water Authority said that only 80-100 million cubic meters of treated sewage are lost, and this places Israel in the top spot globally for using treated waste. Moreover, only 2.7 percent of sewage flows in a raw state into streams, and none goes into the sea.