State Comptroller Joseph Shapira sounded the alarm in a report issued Wednesday about the country’s lack of preparedness for a major earthquake. Shapira found insufficient preparedness in the country’s hotel sector, taking direct aim at the Tourism Ministry itself for what he claimed was its inaction.
Israel sits right on the Dead Sea fault. The Dead Sea itself and the Sea of Galilee, both lie along the fault, which stretches from Turkey to East Africa. Earlier this month, residents of the area around the Sea of Galilee were startled by a series of relatively minor quakes that hit the area over a course of several days. The Dead Sea fault most recently caused a deadly quake in 1927 that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale and which killed hundreds. A temblor in 1837 leveled the cities of Tiberias and Safed.
The north, including the area around the Sea of Galilee, as well as the Dead Sea in the south, are major tourist regions. The Galilee in particular attracts large numbers of foreign tourists. If a major quake were to hit the areas, earthquake preparedness at hotels would not only be important to tourists staying there, but also to Israelis who might seek accommodation in them if their own homes are damaged.
“In light of the high concentration of tourists in hotels in sensitive regions and in light of the plans from the inter-ministerial earthquake preparedness steering committee to house [Israeli] citizens whose homes are damaged at hotels, it would be appropriate for the Tourism Ministry to consider ways to develop a full situation assessment regarding hotels around the country,” Shapira wrote, accusing the Tourism Ministry of seeking to shift responsibility for such an assessment elsewhere within the government.
In May, the Tourism Ministry responded to concerns raised by State Comptroller Shapira, saying that it is aware of the importance of the matter but has no authority to make an initial situation assessment of the country’s hotels, adding that if survey results are obtained, it would also not have authority to require hotels to take any emergency preparedness steps.
In 2010, the Israeli cabinet adopted a resolution conferring responsibility on the Tourism Ministry to develop earthquake preparedness plans that would include procedures that would be put in place during an earthquake and for emergency drills. The cabinet also resolved that in the aftermath of a quake, the ministry would be responsible for finding alternate accommodations for displaced tourists.
Shapira’s report stated that a committee comprised of representatives of the tourism and housing ministries discussed the need to conduct a physical survey of the country’s hotels to identify those that would require reinforcement to make them more resistant to quakes. In 2014, the Housing Ministry developed a preliminary plan to survey older hotels and provided criteria by which some properties would be given preference, along with funding for inspection by engineers who would provide estimates as to the cost of required reinforcement work.
The Tourism Ministry recognized the need for such a plan and for grants as an incentive to carry out necessary work, but, as noted, insists that it has no authority to implement it. Nothing has been done by any government ministry to implement the plan.
The steering committee referred to in Shapira’s report was to be the entity that would coordinate earthquake preparedness for the country beyond the tourism sector to include every sector of activity and would help members of the cabinet advance the plans. The comptroller’s report alleges, however, that the committee was never provided the means over the years to actually function.
“As long as the steering committee has no legal authority to require government ministries, infrastructure entities and local government authorities to act in accordance with its directives, enforcement of the required work to reduce and prevent earthquake damage is impossible,” Shapira wrote.
Hagai Amit, Ruth Schuster and Nir Hasson contributed to this report.
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