The Water Authority aims to minimize the number of disconnections for customers who have not paid their water bills, representatives declared this week.

Tammy Shore, deputy director of the Israel Water Authority, announced on Monday that the authority intends to present new rules to the Economic Affairs Committee, with the central principle of banning the practice of water disconnections to customers in debt, according to the committee spokesman.

The announcement followed a Sunday hearing held on the subject by committee chairman MK Avishay Braverman (Labor), with the participation of MK Eitan Cabel (Labor), and Ran Melamed, deputy director for communication and social policy at YEDID – The Association for Community Empowerment – as well as Finance Ministry and Water Authority officials.

To date, tens of thousands of consumers every year are unable to pay their water bill, a majority of which live under the poverty line.

In response to the committee’s announcement on Monday regarding the Water Authority’s intentions, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor said that the authority had already submitted a set of rules on the subject to the committee.

These rules, Schor said, would have ensured “protection from disconnection to about one-third of the Israeli population, among them: the needy, the disabled, Holocaust survivors and others.”

“The Economic Affairs Committee objected to approving rules of this sort and therefore the Water Authority announced that this subject will return to discussion in the Water Authority Council in accordance with its jurisdiction on the subject,” Schor said.

Nonetheless, Braverman praised the Water Authority’s decision to bring the discussion back to the table.

“The Water Authority decision demonstrated tremendous social sensitivity and public courage,” Braverman said. “Water disconnections are an unethical tool to pressure citizens to pay water bills.

Citizens must pay their debts, but in a country where poverty rates are among the highest in the Western world, we cannot leave families with children, elderly and sick people without water.”

Sunday’s hearing was called at the request of MKs Braverman and Cabel, who together with YEDID were promoting the initiative over the course of the past several months.

The meeting also trailed a previous Economic Affairs Committee discussion on the subject in December 2013, in which Braverman and his colleagues expressed concern at the fact that no regulations regarding water rights and disconnections have been created since the establishment of regional water corporations in 2001.

Melamed said: “We welcome the Water Authority’s decision and will help write rules to protect the viability of consumers on the one hand and allow the payment of debts on the other.”

As part of the move, the MKs held meetings with Udi Adiri, deputy director of the Finance Ministry Budget Department, and representatives of the ministry and provided them with a plan to increase the collection capacity of the Water Authority without disconnecting water supply. In addition, negotiations were held with representatives of the Water Authority.

Adiri said: “There is no doubt that water disconnections present a problem so we are willing to consider alternatives, but it must be understood that water is a product and you have to pay for it.”

MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor) praised the decision and said that “the most important thing now is to promote the bill that other MKs and I wrote at the initiative of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and prohibit the disconnections through legislation, ensuring that this policy of zero disconnections will be implemented from tomorrow morning.

“I have already been charging towards the next goal: instead of disconnecting the water to people, we need to close down the corporations themselves who increased the water rates in Israel sky high,” Shmuli said.

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