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An ongoing dispute between local authorities in Israel may bring upon the next infrastructure disaster.


Written almost ten years ago…. but sadly relevant more than ever……

An ongoing dispute between local authorities in Israel may bring upon the next infrastructure disaster.

Although a drought still persists in the region occasion high intensive rains cause vast floods in various urban areas. In a recent flood in south Tel Aviv a young boy has drowned and died with no one to save him and many hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes.

Once in a few years this happens: flooding of neighborhoods, rescue boats (from various places – even Navy commando units) wondering around from one building to another and damage in millions. In addition the environmental damage caused by uncontrolled sewage and waste that reach the sea and various places causing further damage which can not always be reversed. In the last flood that took place in Tel Aviv the local sewage authority had to divert hundreds of thousands of untreated wastewater to the open sea in order to avoid a total collapse of the wastewater collection system and treatment plants. Thus not carrying out both local and national environmental laws. Huge traffic jams were created due to the flooding causing further environmental damage jus by the increase of exauhst emissions.

During and after the floods politicians and local governing officials are busy blaming the government and each other. It is the old story of the local authorities blaming the government and vise versa.

The fact of the matter is that there is a serious problem in the wastewater infrastructure of some of Tel Aviv’s neighborhoods and its satellite towns. Some of the water pipes are old and are not capable of handling huge amounts of rainfall – thus the system fails with the first major rains that take place. Various legal as well as financial and political reasons inhibit the promotion of modern projects. Infrastructure in a dense urban area such as the Tel Aviv area (known as “gush dan”) incorporates a few local authorities. Thus various legal aspects cause a delay in the development of infrastructure. In addition,  the various authorities have their own agenda concerning the means and ways of spending their budget. Spending on infrastructure does not give immediate political dividends, thus very few policy makers are inclined to deal with it.

The Israeli government has been making a great effort through the development of a special wastewater authority (under the patronage of the water commission). The head of this authority (Mr Eli Ronen)  is also the DDG for planning and policy at the Ministry of National Infrastructures (among others – in charge of the water sector). Thus the potential of promoting the development of wastewater infrastructure is high. The wastewater authority, in conjunction with the Water Commission are in the process of evaluating technically and economically various projects with the aim of improving wastewater and rainfall collection and treatment.

Yet some of the efforts are still fruitless. A big project aimed at collecting wastewater all along the inner part of the coastline cities and villages is being postponed due to political and legal dispute. The wastewater is being planned to be allocated to secondary use in the agricultural sector in the central and southern regions of the country. The total cost of the project is currently estimated at 60 million US$.  The wastewater authority of the Tel Aviv urban area has contributed 10 million US$ but fails to get the contribution of other authorities. The government itself has not established yet its policy in terms of how much it will contribute towards the project. One of the reasons being national water policy and the cost of water production and allocation of water of various qualities to various sectors (for example- the farmers pay a  considerable subsidised water price – and are backed by the Agricultural Ministry whereas the Ministry of Finance oposes this policy and is in the view that water should cost the true marginal cost of production and transfer).

It is worthwhile noting that this project was initiated in 1991, almost 10 years ago, and only in 8 months time will the planning part be over (due to the long debate). Once the planning part is over than the construction may begin (approx 2 years to complete).

Accomplishing the project is not in sight and so is the prospect of change in the poor and old neighborhoods and towns in the central region of Israel.


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