The Knesset State Control Committee slammed ministers on Monday for delaying
plans to fortify hospitals in the North against earthquakes, and for failing to
issue planning tenders for the project.
During a special hearing to
examine progress to fortify public buildings against earthquakes, the committee
also blasted the government for failing to close plants containing hazardous
materials, which could pose a significant public danger in the case of a seismic
Monday’s hearing came in response to two scathing reports by State
Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the most recent of which was submitted to
Knesset in March 2011.
In that March report, which slammed the government
for a litany of failures in its preparation for earthquakes, Lindenstrauss said
readying the country’s infrastructure for an earthquake of significant magnitude
should be a “top national priority.”
Israel is at risk of earthquakes
because of its location near the Syrian-African fault line, which borders the
country to the east and extends many sub-fault systems including in the north of
the country. The last earthquake of magnitude hit the region in July 1927,
killing 300 people and injuring many more, and in 2010, the Contractors and
Builders Association presented a report to the government, warning that a
million homes and hundreds of public buildings are at risk of collapse in a
Among those present at Monday’s State Control
Committee meeting were Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin, who chairs the
Ministerial Committee on Earthquake Preparedness, and representatives of the
State Comptroller’s Office, the Treasury and the Interior, Defense, Health,
Public Security, Welfare and Energy and Water ministries.
As the meeting
opened, Boaz Aner, director-general of the State Comptroller’s Office, said the
country must expect that an earthquake will occur, adding that the reality of
Israel’s position is such that it must also fortify its infrastructure against
“A modern state must be prepared,” Aner said. “We would have
been in a far better position today had we not already wasted over 10
Committee chairman Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) called on ministers to
help families fortify their homes by promoting Tama 38, the government’s
incentive program to fortify residential buildings against
Under Tama 38, residents of buildings constructed prior to
1980, when strict new building regulations came into force, are eligible for
grants to improve earthquake fortifications.
Construction and Housing
Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) said he supported Tama 38, but added that despite
incentives, take-up of the program has been low, especially in peripheral
regions where weaker and poorer populations live.
Attias also said the
program had been delayed because of strong opposition from the Justice Ministry.
Under the plan, two-thirds of tenants in a building must agree to the project
before it can go ahead.
Attias said the Construction and Housing Ministry
has asked the Justice Ministry to change the terms of the plan so that a simple
majority of 51 percent of tenants must agree, but that request has yet to be
Attias added that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was
unhappy with the issue, and according to the housing minister has said he
preferred the terms to be changed so that no agreement from tenants was needed
in order to go ahead with the earthquake reinforcements.
Attias, the Construction and Housing Ministry had been allocated NIS 90 million
to fortify public housing against earthquakes, but that the budget had only been
granted this year. The minister said that work would commence this
“We will undertake urban renewal in 37 communities, and we have
increased the budget in order to allow us to fortify structures,” Attias
“The larger the budget we are allocated, the more buildings we can
fortify. There’s no ‘hocus pocus’ involved here, it’s an obvious and direct
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) raised the issue of reinforcing
public housing in poorer neighborhoods in high-risk cities such as Beit She’an,
Tiberias and Kiryat Shmona, and said this project was important not just to
minimize earthquake damage, but also to prevent damage in case of
Henin called on the government to set out a clear timetable for
carrying out the fortifications in public housing.
Avi Shapira, chairman
of the steering committee for earthquake preparedness in the Prime Minister’s
Office, said in many cases contractors did not want to begin fortifying
residential buildings if tenants objected.
chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Earthquake Preparedness Begin said the
government had allocated NIS 140 million for earthquake preparedness.
am not interested in an earthquake that could happen in 20,000 years, and if we
prepared for such then we would have no budget for health, security or
education,” Begin said. “We are estimating that an earthquake will happen every
Begin said that with the exception of Japan, “no other
country in the world gives incentives for fortifying buildings against
earthquakes as we do.”
He added that part of the problem with Tama 38 is
psychological, as residents do not want to have to live “in the middle of a
building site,” and said the project needs time in order to be
Addressing the state comptroller’s criticisms regarding the
danger of hazardous materials in plants, Begin said he did not believe the risks
of the ammonia plant in Haifa were as high as Lindenstrauss had
Health Ministry deputy director- general Yehuda Ron said
reinforcing Galilee Medical Faculty in Safed, Poriya Hospital near Tiberias, and
the Rambam and Bnai Zion hospitals in Haifa against earthquakes was complicated
because the plans needed to allow for the continual working of all hospital
Ron said building tenders have yet to be issued to reinforce
some of the hospitals.