Stormy weather takes economic toll

Local authorities say poor infrastructure has led to one billion shekels worth of damage.

Western Wall in the snow 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Western Wall in the snow 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
It may take weeks to assess the full extent of damage done by the rain, snow and floods over the last few days, but even as the wintry weather continued across the country on Thursday, signs pointed to significant economic disruptions from the stormy conditions.
In Tel Aviv, flooding along the main highway and train tracks on Tuesday prevented some 15% of employees in the business sector from getting to work, according to the local chamber of commerce.
“We’re talking about 15% of a huge sector of 2.2 million employees,” said Federation of the Israeli Chambers of Commerce president Uriel Lynn, adding that delays cost those workers who did make it to work an hour-and-a-half of productivity.
Snow in Jerusalem on Wednesday and Thursday likewise blocked off roads and shut down public transport, preventing people from getting to their jobs. For parents who could get to work, school cancellations threw a wrench into their plans.
As the Tel Aviv Municipality went to work picking up fallen signs and trees, mending damaged roads and fixing traffic and street lights, it said that repairing all the damage would cost millions of shekels.
Adding in further incidents of flooding, broken power lines and falling objects, the municipality received a total of 1,680 damage reports between Saturday and Thursday. A spokesperson for the Jerusalem Municipality said they were too busy catering to the needs of their residents to gather statistics.
Though municipal workers were quick to point out that their recent infrastructure upgrades were not designed to deal with the unusual severity of the storm, Lynn blasted them for misplaced priorities.
“The failure belongs to the local authorities, which prefer to invest in gardens, building, bicycle lanes and other projects that will earn them favor with local residents. Engineering projects such as expanding roads and taking care of the neglected drainage system, and that affects us all on these kinds of days,” said Lynn.
Some local authorities said poor infrastructure had led to one billion shekels worth of damage, an assessment that would call into question decisions to defer infrastructure improvement projects costing between NIS 1.5-2 billion.
Uninsured victims of flooded homes also had much to worry about. According to Haim Etkin, a land appraiser, damage to flooded buildings could cost them as much as NIS 1,000 per square meter.
The heavy rains also hit agriculture particularly hard.
According to David Ginsberg, who heads the Insurance Fund for Natural Risk in Agriculture, over 700 farms were damaged during the course of the fiveday tempest, half of them in the last day alone, and more than any storm in over 20 years. The most extensive damage hit in the country’s center.
The Agriculture Ministry said on Thursday it would recommend that the storm be declared a “natural disaster,” which would allow it to compensate farmers for damage to their equipment and infrastructure, a process that would take several weeks.
Yossi Yishai, the minstry’s director-general, said 2013 was the third year the ministry would have to support farmers after natural disasters, but that crop insurance brought the government’s cost down to NIS 130 million a year, from a high of nearly NIS 280 million in the past.
However, even though crops absorbed a majority of the damage, the fact that 90% of farmers have their crops insured for natural disasters means they will have an easier time dealing with the economic aftermath of the storm, according to Ginsberg.
Consumers, however, may not be so lucky; the shortage of crops will inevitably lead to a spike in the price of produce.