The Riverbeds Are Waiting

Israel's new government must make good on its predecessor's environmental promises to improve the quality of life for its citizens and save irreplaceable natural treasures.

The soon-to-be-formed government will need to grapple not only with political and social goals. In every corner, under every tree, on the banks of most rivers and at almost all the beaches, hazards and pollution await. Solving these environmental problems would significantly improve the quality of life of the citizens of Israel and would save irreplaceable natural treasures.

Three years ago, the Government of Israel approved a decision stating: "The government's policy will be based on the principles of sustainable development, a dynamic economy, intelligent use of natural resources, protection of ecological systems and equal opportunities for all. This is intended to answer the needs of the current generation, as well as the needs of the coming generations."

Here is a partial and very selective list, not in order of importance, of several environmental goals that the government should set for itself - assuming that it is interested in implementing the decision it made three years ago.

Establishing large parks for residents of the large metropolises, including Park Ayalon, Park Hayarkon (the eastern part,) Park Hasharon, Park Ramat Menashe and two parks near Jerusalem. In addition, the government should finish declaring nature reserves and national parks throughout Israel in order to grant them a protected status finally.

Rapid and decisive implementation of government decisions to reduce air pollution. This mainly entails implementing plans to use natural gas at all power plants and to prevent polluting vehicles from entering city centers, and transitioning to cleaner fuels for transportation.

Implementation of plans to expand public transportation and reassessment of new roads that are already in the approval process. This refers mainly to roads cutting across the length and breadth of Ramat Menashe, the hills of Jerusalem, the lower Galilee and the Sharon region. These roads would destroy the green lungs of Israel and further encourage the dependence on private vehicles. The government will have to cancel some of these planned roads.

Dealing with the unrecognized villages in the Negev. This is a social, political and environmental problem. The residents of these villages are exposed to many environmental hazards and also generate considerable environmental damage due to unplanned construction and uncontrolled exploitation of open space. Without a comprehensive planning process, the allocation of resources and the resolution of land ownership disputes between the state and the Bedouins, increasingly large sections of the northern Negev will become pockets of human distress and environmental desolation.

Extensive investment in energy and water conservation. The government has a master plan for the energy economy stating that it is possible to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, and the Water Commission has a master plan for water conservation that would lead to a 10-percent reduction in water consumption. These plans should be implemented; the waste of natural resources and the emission of pollution in electricity generation should be prevented.

The war against littering is a central objective in improving the quality of life. The government will have to provide incentives and encourage recycling, to teach why it is wrong to litter and, especially, tackle the difficult plague of building waste. There is a government plan in this area, and resources must be allocated to enable better enforcement, and the creation of organized dumping sites and facilities for recycling waste.

For those who doubt Israel's ability to tackle such serious environmental problems, here is an encouraging, albeit partial, reminder from the past 15 years. During this period, most of the urban waste sites that could not prevent pollution were closed, and waste-treatment facilities were built in most cities. The emission of heavy pollutants from power plants and factories was reduced (mainly sulfuric oxides). The land of craters in the Negev, a large center of mining and quarrying sites, was slated for preservation and many of the quarrying sites there have been rehabilitated. This is not such a bad balance sheet at all for a state with so many problems.