Rain Should Not Kill Israelis

An IDF truck rescues Nahariya residents trapped by flooding, January 8, 2020.
Rami Shllush

On Saturday Dean Shoshani and Stav Harari drowned in an elevator when some 80 millimeters (a little over three inches) of rain fell in two hours in south Tel Aviv. The weekend storm also took the lives of Ali Agbariya of Arara and Eran Harnstadt of Binyamina. On Wednesday another man, a 38-year-old from Nahariya, also died after being swept away by flooding.

It seems as if exceptional downpours are becoming the norm. On Wednesday 100 millimeters of rain fell in only a few hours in the Western Galilee, and two weeks ago rainfall records were broken in Safed.

The planning of sewage systems is usually tailored to the rainfall averages that we’ve known to date. But rainstorms that people describe as happening “once in 50 years” have been happening with increasing frequency. The climate crisis, along with changes in urban density, are making heavy rains more difficult to cope with, as they cause casualties and serious damage to property and infrastructure.

According to all forecasts and models, the situation is only going to get worse. Given this, we need a change of approach. Just as in the past it was thought that the solution to traffic jams was to build more roads while now we understand that the solution must also include functioning public transportation, we must realize that merely widening drainage pipes won’t solve the problem.

A new approach to planning cities and roads is needed. Along with the traditional drainage solutions, we must adopt solutions to block and disperse the water that collects on the surface and causes damage. For example, by using “green solutions” – gardens and parks that will halt and absorb the water, along with trees and green rooftops that will slow the flow of water to the ground.

But adjusting infrastructures isn’t enough. To deal with the flooding, the water and sewage authorities, the local authorities, government ministries and especially the prime minister must recognize that there is a climate crisis and join the worldwide efforts to alleviate it. A leadership that doesn’t deal with the ramifications of the climate crisis and take steps to accommodate the changes needed isn’t doing its job. Draining surface water has to be part of urban planning, the authorities must instruct the public how to act and the government must invest resources in protecting infrastructure and communities from extreme weather events, as well as join the international effort to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

Cities in Europe, the United States and Canada are drawing up plans to deal with exceptional rainstorms. If Israel wants to stop counting its dead after every cloudburst, it has to wake to the new reality and adapt its infrastructures to the climate crisis era.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.