The floods and fires in Europe and the Mediterranean in recent weeks have been unprecedented in extent, causing heavy losses to life and property. Lessons must be learned from these events to improve preparedness for a future in which the climate crisis and increased construction will worsen the damage. Such preparedness is essential also in Israel, which is in a region that will be seriously affected by the anticipated global warming.
Preparedness is necessary because it is clear today that even the most strenuous efforts to slow the impact of the climate crisis will not prevent it. In addition, a significant increase in population and construction is expected, mainly in the Mediterranean basin, especially in Israel.
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Readying for the future means using nature-based solutions, but at the same time carefully managing natural areas. More human intervention is required in forests, including controlled grazing that reduces the amount of combustible vegetation, and the creation of fire breaks, where trees are cut down near communities to reduce the risk of the spread of fire to residences.
On the other hand, there are instances in which understanding is needed of natural processes, and human development must correspond to it. The most obvious example is the need to conserve natural open spaces near streams and rivers, where floodwater can be channeled in a way that slows it down and allows it to penetrate the ground instead of inundating cities and villages.
Proper forecasting and a professional, well-organized rescue service are essential. The recently published state comptroller’s report highlighted many failures in organizing and funding flood forecasting, and the government must act soon to improve this service. Firefighting in Israel has improved in recent years thanks to an aerial firefighting squadron, but this also needs additional support. Meaningful support is also needed to promote grazing and cutting of trees in forested areas.
In recent years the government has passed resolutions on establishing a climate change administration. But the funding to allow it to begin work was allocated only last month. This administration must act soon to improve climate forecasting and risk assessment. It must also assist in providing recommendations for dealing with climate change in the government’s housing plan, which sets out goals for 2040. One of the government’s main objectives must be to set up a planning process that accounts for the environmental changes caused by construction, including extreme climate events. Israel must assume that such disasters will reach its doorstep, and plan now for how to cope with them.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.