State Comptroller: Israel Must Stop Ignoring Earthquake Warnings

Micha Lindenstrauss issues report revealing that the country has done almost nothing to reinforce buildings and infrastructure in the last decade.

The Israeli government has done nothing to improve its status quo of unpreparedness for an earthquake, despite more than a decade of warning, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said Wednesday.

"The warning issued in this special report is a red flag for the prime minister and the government of Israel," wrote Lindenstrauss in the preface of a special report on the matter.

earthquake - Alon Ron - March 23 2011
Alon Ron

State Comptroller's Office employees studied several aspects of the ability of buildings and infrastructure in Israel to withstand an earthquake.

The general conclusion of the report is that very little has been done to improve the stability of buildings in the decade that has elapsed since the release of the last in-depth report that dealt with this issue.

Despite a number of decisions taken and a number of surveys conducted, no hospitals have been reinforced, even those that are located in areas that are especially vulnerable to earthquakes, such as Ziv Hospital in Safed and Yoseftal Hospital in Eilat.

The State Comptroller also pointed out that the few specially-reinforced emergency rooms that were built after the Second Lebanon War provide only a partial solution to the problem.

Likewise, there has been almost no improvement in the state of other public buildings, such as schools. This has been the case even though an annual budget of NIS 100 million should have more than sufficed to strengthen a good number of these public buildings. Surveys were conducted and plans were laid, but no actual changes were made.

Despite this, a significant budget was allotted, and there exists an intention to reinforce some buildings as soon as later this year.

Very little progress has been made in the fortification of residences -- both government-owned housing and privately-owned housing – despite the fact that a special program was established that allows residents to strengthen their houses in exchange for building permits.

The report revealed that many programs led to a variety problems, including the submission of reinforcement plans that did not meet criteria, the difficulty of enlarging apartments in dense areas, and disagreements between residents over the construction work.

There is an especially serious problem in the periphery where the cost of land is low and therefore there is very little demand for building permits. Until now, no solution has been found for this problem, or for the problem of strengthening pubic buildings, which is the responsibility of the government.

In 2009, the Housing and Construction Ministry planned the fortifications of specific buildings located in areas prone to earthquakes, such as Beit She'an and Kiryat Shmona. It was supposed to have made these fortifications as far back as 1996. Until now, the funds have still not been allocated to fortify these buildings.

Last month, the Housing and Construction Ministry told the State Comptroller that it is now working on a plan to allocate NIS 90 million to the fortification of residencies that are located in seismically sensitive areas.