Environmental issues in Israel | Wikipedia audio article


The State of Israel is one of the smallest
countries in the world, around 20,000 sq. km, and has relatively few natural resources. Due to its limited space, semi-arid climate,
high population growth and resource scarcity, Israel is highly susceptible to environmental
crises. These include water shortages and pollution,
shrinking of the Dead Sea, waste production and disposal, air pollution and population
density. As a result, resource development, in particular
water, has benefited from relatively high government support throughout most of the
country’s history. For example, Israel’s water conservation and
reclamation infrastructure is one of the most advanced in the world, with approximately
half its water supply derived from reclaimed and treated waste water, brackish water and
desalinated water. Additionally, Israel is party to several international
agreements regarding air pollution and climate change, including the Kyoto Protocol, the
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Montreal Protocol. Despite having taken these steps, Israel’s
environment continues to suffer as a rapidly growing population and standard of living
contributes to increasing Green House Gas emissions and air pollutants, reductions in
natural and open spaces via urbanization, over-pumping of water sources beyond their
replenishment rates and deterioration of water used for drinking and irrigation.==Geography and climate==The State of Israel is a Middle Eastern country
located along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea and the Northern border of the world’s
largest desert belt. Israel has a semi-arid climate, with lengthy
summers and short winters. According to the Köppen-Geiger climate classification
system Israel is composed of three climate zones. Areas on the Mediterranean coast are classified
as “dry-summer subtropical”, (Csa), and experience both the hottest and coldest months of the
year. Closer inland Israel transitions into a dry
semi-arid climate (Bsh), with an average temperature of 18 C. Southern Israel is classified as
a “hot desert climate” (Bwh) and receives an average of 50mm to 200mm of rainfall annually. Rainfall is relatively higher in the North,
where approximately 78%, around 1,100mm, of the country’s precipitation occurs annually.==Environmental movement==While development in Israel has always been
prioritized, environmental protection has not always received adequate attention by
the government, resulting in the growth of a robust domestic environmental movement. The number of environmental NGOs has increased
significantly in recent decades; currently there are over 100 registered organizations
pursuing environmental campaigns with varying degrees of success. According to environmental activist Alon Tal,
despite the dramatic increase in number of Israeli environmental movements since the
1990s, their organizations lack efficiency and effectiveness due to narrow agendas, limited
sources of funding and a lack of professional capabilities. Although there is high ideological homogeneity
among the environmental NGOs, their lack of efficiency in addressing environmental issues
has hampered efforts to prevent an escalation in Israel’s environmental problems.==Contemporary issues=====
Water Management===Water scarcity and quality have been at the
forefront of Israel’s environmental concerns since the country’s early years. Due to Israel’s geographical variance in precipitation,
a 130 km long pipeline known as the “National Water Carrier” was constructed in 1964. By the early 1990s the pipeline transported
approximately half of Israel’s drinking water. Israel pumps its water primarily from three
sources, Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and the coastal and mountain aquifers. As of 2004, these three sources provided approximately
73% of Israel’s drinking water. Israel utilizes almost all of its naturally
replenishing water sources for municipal, agricultural and industrial purposes. Currently, Israeli water consumption exceeds
the natural recharge rate by approximately 1 billion cubic meters per year (MCM/year). According to Israel’s Ministry of Environmental
Protection, overuse of Israel’s water resources has negative effects on both wetlands and
water ecosystems.====Surface water====Lake Kinneret is Israel’s only freshwater
reservoir and primary source of surface water. Kinneret provides water for use mainly in
the South, where annual precipitation is relatively low compared to the North. It is also important as a source of recharge
water for the Coastal and Mountain aquifers. Lake Kinneret suffers from a variable flow
regime, whereby long periods of rain are followed by long periods of drought, leading to high
variability in natural recharge rates. A study conducted in 2004 revealed that Increasing
demand for water, even during years of drought, had led to a decline in the Lake’s water level
below the legal limit by approximately 2.5 meters. This decline has had negative effects on lakeshore
facilities, and has increased the salinity of both the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. At the turn of the century, almost every major
river in Israel had become significantly polluted due to many years of waste discharge from
industrial and agricultural sources. One of the more famous examples is the pollution
of Israel’s third largest river, the Kishon River. In 1994, a study was conducted testing pollution
in the Kishon at sources close to several industrial plants. Decades of dumping hazardous effluents had
all but eradicated aquatic life in the river, causing the Israel Union for Environmental
Defense (IUED) to file several successful lawsuits against two of the biggest polluters,
Deshanim Ltd. And Haifa Chemicals. By 1998, most of Israel’s surface water, rivers
and streams, as well as its groundwater reserves, were polluted to a certain degree by industrial
and civil waste. According to Israel’s Ministry of Environmental
Protection, the construction of wastewater treatment facilities have reduced sources
of river pollution from 250 to 100 in the period between 1990 and 2010.According to
Israel’s Ministry of Health, the state of Israel’s drinking wells is also an issue. As of 2002, it was reported that 36% of the
wells in the central coastal region had to be closed after failing to meet the existing
standard for nitrate levels (90 mg/L ). According to a report published in 2010 by Israel’s
Ministry of Environmental Protection, a significant number of wells in the center and North of
the country have tested positive for varying amounts of pollutants.====Ground water====
Due to its location near the most urbanized and densely populated area of Israel, the
Coastal Aquifer is exposed to many sources of pollutants, including chlorides, bynitrates,
heavy metals, fuels and organic toxins. As of 2004, approximately 41% of water taken
from the Coastal aquifer met safety standards set by the European Union and World Health
Organization. High demand for an expanding population has
led to over pumping of the Coastal Aquifer, in some cases eclipsing its recharge rate
by upwards of 100%. Overuse, introduction of man-made pollutants
and absorption of seawater have increased the salinity of the aquifer.Israel’s Mountain
aquifer has suffered from excessive pumping to the point where its water level sank below
the legal minimum set by the Israeli water commission. The decline in water level has had negative
effects on water sources in surrounding wetlands and nature reserves. A survey by the Hydrological Service of Israel
in 2002 found that improperly handled waste from several settlements had filtered into
the aquifer, introducing nitrates and other pollutants into the water supply. The threat of pollution to the Mountain Aquifer
is far greater than that of the Coastal Aquifer due to its karstic composition, allowing for
quicker absorption of both water and pollutants.====Water reclamation====Water scarcity in Israel has resulted in the
development of a sophisticated water reclamation and conservation system, particularly in regards
to agriculture. In 2008, Israel was using 82% of its municipal
wastewater for irrigation purposes, more than any other country at the time. In 2015, treated waste water, alongside brackish
and desalinated water accounted for approximately half of the country’s supply of usable water.One
concern regarding wastewater treatment is the byproduct known as wastewater sludge. In 2008, more than 100,000 tons of this waste
was either land-filled or disposed of directly into the sea. In 2002, it was discovered that around half
of the treated waste water being used for irrigation did not meet safety standards,
posing a danger to human life, water reserves and food crops.===The Dead Sea===In 2016, the DESERVE institute constructed
a network of scientific monitoring stations around the Dead Sea, expanding our understanding
of declining water levels, freshwater pollution, and the increased occurrence of sinkholes. Their findings have confirmed previous estimates
of water level decline, by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, of approximately
a meter a year. This is due, in part, to over pumping of surface
water connected to the Jordan River, which leads directly into the Dead Sea. Additionally, the decline of the Dead Sea
is correlated with increased sinkhole formation, although the mechanisms through which this
occurs have not been confirmed. These sinkholes have caused significant damage
to infrastructure and industry surrounding the Dead Sea region.===Waste management===With a rapidly growing population and limited
space to expand, Israel has faced significant issues concerning waste disposal over the
last few decades. Until the early 90’s, most waste in Israel
ended up in unregulated garbage dumps. Following a government order implemented in
1993, the unregulated dumps were closed due to severe contamination of local sources of
surface and groundwater. As of 2010, approximately 65% of solid waste
in Israel was disposed of via burning and land-filling and approximately 30% was recycled. The issue of limited space has led to pollutants
from landfills finding their way into the environment and sources of drinking water. As of 2013, approximately half a million Israelis
did not have access to proper sewage infrastructure and waste disposal. In other areas, rapid improvements in the
standard of living has resulted in a 4-5% annual increase in solid waste, with the average
quantity reaching approximately 11,300 tons per year.===Air pollution and climate change===
According to a 2002 study by the Israeli Journal of chemistry, Israel’s efforts to minimize
the effects of chemical pollution and improve environmental quality have proven less effective
than those of the EU and other countries. In an effort to comply with GHG emission reductions,
Israel formed a committee with the goal of evaluating the country’s potential to reduce
emissions by the year 2030. Their findings have confirmed that Israel’s
power sector generates approximately half of the country’s total GHG emissions. The second largest offender is the transport
sector, which produces approximately 19% of total emissions.Due to substantial growth
in vehicle use and emissions from power plants, the presence of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and
Sulfur Oxides (SOx) in the air near Israel’s major urban centers have increased significantly
between 1980 and 2002. Nitrogen oxides doubled twice during these
years, CO2 increased by 190%, and incidents of respiratory illness among children increased
from 5%-17%.Although greenhouse gas emissions have steadily risen from 1996 to 2007, as
of 2010 concentrations of Nitrogen oxides and other pollutants have decreased around
major traffic sites. Additionally, falling Sulfur oxide levels
have been observed and attributed to more efficient fuel use in industrial power plants. However, despite the effects of technology
in lowering per-capita emissions, rapid population growth and increased per-capita consumption
have led to an overall decrease in air quality.===Population density===Israel is one on the world’s most densely
populated countries, with most people living in the center and on the Mediterranean Coast. Israel’s total population is approximately
8,463,400, with an annual growth rate of 2%. Some authors suggest this rapid population
growth is a product of pro-natal/immigration policies pursued by the Israel government
throughout its formative years. However, with little room to expand this rate
of growth is putting unsustainable pressure on the environment in the form of increased
consumption, transportation, destruction of natural spaces and waste production. On the Coastal Plain, rapid urbanization,
pollution, the introduction of predatory weeds and habitat fragmentation have damaged or
destroyed many natural spaces. Reduction in public beach space, and pollution
along the coastlines of the Mediterranean and Red Sea have forced the Israeli government
to pursue varied cleanup and inspection programs, including being party to the Mediterranean
Action Plan. Additionally, air pollution has been exacerbated
by population growth. Despite reductions in per-capita emissions
from the transportation and industrial sectors, population growth has led to an overall increase
in air pollution. According to a report by the Israeli Ministry
of Environmental Protection, the pressure exerted by Israel’s growing population needs
to be reduced in order to prevent the loss of open spaces and ecological corridors near
and between surface water bodies

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