Despite repeated warnings, the government has done little to prepare the
country’s buildings and infrastructures for an earthquake of significant
magnitude, which most experts believe could happen at any time, State
Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said, in a scathing report he submitted to
Knesset State Control Committee on Wednesday.
“Most earthquake experts
believe that the occurrence of an earthquake, which will claim the lives of
thousands and cause grievous damage to buildings and property, is nearly certain
and that it will happen sooner or later. Therefore preparing for such a scenario
must be a top national priority,” wrote Lindenstrauss in the report’s
“Unfortunately the State Comptroller’s Office has been
warning for 20 years, in a long series of reports, about Israel’s failure to
prepare itself for such an occurrence, but as this report found, serious
deficiencies have not been corrected and in some cases have
The state comptroller described the report as “a red flag”
waving before the Netanyahu government and urged the prime minister and the
relevant ministers to take quick action and make up for lost
Lindenstrauss also warned about ignoring state comptroller’s
reports, pointing to the Carmel Forest fire disaster as an example of what could
happen if state comptroller recommendations went unheeded.
“In light of
the dismal picture that arose from the report’s findings, and in light of the
harsh results of the December 2010 forest fire that blazed in the Carmel, and in
light of the fact that the unambiguous conclusions of previous reports were not
implemented, there rises a concern that the treatment of this critical matter is
a symptom of a system-wide flaw in decision-making and management on the
national level, which may also occur in the treatment of other matters,” wrote
The report submitted Wednesday, which Lindenstrauss said
was the fifth to deal with earthquake preparedness, dealt mostly with the
government’s failure to implement its own previous decisions regarding the
strengthening of buildings and infrastructures.
The report highlighted
cabinet decisions from 2001 and 2004 ordering the relevant ministries to see to
it that any deficiencies were corrected, with Lindenstrauss determining that
little had been done to follow through on the orders.
“In general it is
fair to say that in the decade that has passed since the 2001 report, there has
been no substantial improvement in the country’s preparedness for earthquakes,
even though in the time that has lapsed significant progress, even if gradual,
could have been made by earmarking modest annual budgets for this purpose,” read
The report noted that in the case of a severe earthquake,
many of the hospitals around the country and especially in the north, may
topple, but added that hospital emergency rooms that were fortified following
the Second Lebanon War, provided a partial solution to the problem.
report found that despite prior warnings, the Environmental Protection Ministry
had yet to complete implementation of its own conclusions regarding the handling
of plants housing dangerous materials, especially in the Haifa Bay area. In the
case of an earthquake, leakage from such plants could severely harm the public
and the environment, the report said.
The report criticized the Housing
and Construction Ministry for failing to begin fortifying residential buildings
in the North, claiming they failed even to assign a budget for that purpose in
2009 and 2010.
The report determined that it was up to the Interior
Ministry to establish a professional agency to supervise the construction of
public buildings in accordance with earthquake safety standards and urged
Interior Minister Eli Yishai to take care of the matter immediately.
report also noted that the government incentive program to fortify residential
buildings, Tama 38, did not provide enough of an incentive and had failed to
achieve the desired results. Very few buildings have been strengthened under the
program, because in most locations the cost of such fortification exceeds the
financial incentives offered.
When it came to placing personal
responsibility for the shortcomings, the report pointed to the minister who
chairs the Ministerial Committee on Earthquake Preparedness, a job filled since
January by Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin and before that by National
Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau.
Other ministers held responsible
included Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz,
Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon, Education Minister Gideon
Sa’ar, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Housing and
Construction Minister Ariel Attias. As health minister, the report noted,
Netanyahu is also responsible for hospital preparedness.
Ministry said in response that the ministry was acting to strengthen buildings
with the aid of the various planning instruments at its disposal, including
providing professional instructions for implementing Tama 38, operating a
website that provides information to the public and examining the need for plan
The ministry claimed that even in places where it was
financially worthwhile to participate in the Tama 38 incentive plan, the main
obstacle was lack of public interest and awareness.
The Housing and
Construction Ministry said in response to the report that it accepted its
conclusions. They claimed that renovating buildings to withstand earthquakes
depended on budgets, budgets that the Finance Ministry is not making
Bennie Begin could not be reached for comment.