NEWS BRIEFS – JANUARY 4, 1995

MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT
DIVISION OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
P.O. Box 6234
Jerusalem 91061

REGIONAL COOPERATION AND THE PEACE PROCESS

* In July 1994, researchers from Ben Gurion University met with their Jordanian and Gazan counterparts in Taba to organize a cooperative project to combat insect infections affecting both sides of the Jordan Rift Valley, particularly in the Dead Sea area. The workshop was funded by the US Agency for International Development. The chief Israeli researcher at the project is BGU Prof. Joel Margalit; the Jordanian team is led by Dr. Munther Haddadin, who also chairs Jordanian multilateral delegations on water and environment; and the Gazan team is headed by Dr. Jamal Safi of the Gazan Environmental Protection and Research Institute. The Taba meeting concentrated on producing a five year plan to use environmentally friendly biological methods to combat the problem, rather than using chemical pesticides.

* Israel will participate in a desalination water project and use of this water for irrigation in Morocco, in cooperation with Luxembourg and Morocco. The project, if successful, is to form a significant part of the national water system of Morocco.

* During the last round of multilateral peace talks of the Working Group on the Environment held in Bahrain in October 1994, the Middle East countries agreed to adopt a Regional Environmental Code of Conduct. The Israeli delegation was headed by the Minister of the Environment, Mr. Yossi Sarid, the first time an Israeli Minister has visited Bahrain. Much practical progress was made during these rounds of talks, with emphasis on the Gulf of Aqaba project as well as the Code of Conduct. The next round of talks will be held in May 1995.

* In November 1994, a regional ministerial and experts conference was held in Tunisia, to decide on an Agenda 21 for the Mediterranean – a program committed to sustainable development for the Mediterranean area within the framework of the very successful Mediterranean Action Plan in effect since 1976. This was the first time an Israeli Minister had been officially invited by the Tunisian government to take part in such a high level meeting. The Minister, Mr. Yossi Sarid, met with top level Tunisian government officials, as well as with environmental ministers from other Mediterranean countries. The Minister of the Environment, Mr. Yossi Sarid, and his Tunisian counterpart, Mr. Mohammed Meliki agreed to begin an exchange of environmental experts between the two countries. A formal invitation was issued to Minister Meliki to visit Israel as an official guest, along with a group of experts, and invitations were also issued to the Turkish Minister of the Environment, the Spanish Minister of the Environment and the French Minister of the Environment.

* The Ministry of Energy plans to establish a solar power station at Ein-Avrona, north of Eilat, following the success of a similar solar power station in Luz, California. This announcement was made on 2.12.94. The station is to supply clean electricity to the surrounding area in southern Israel, and also to part of Jordan, Egypt and possibly Saudi Arabia. The station will also be an important solar energy research centre. It is estimated that the establishment of this solar power station will take up to two and a half years.

* A private Jordanian company will be a partner together with the Israeli Army Industry in the project to establish a sea canal which is intended to bring sea water to areas for use as an additional water source and to produce energy. Additional partners in the project are a large Japanese concern and the German concern, NEOLL. The cost of the project will be 1.5-2.5 million dollars.

* The city of Lod will take part in a cooperative project involving Ramallah, Lod and the Egyptian city of Djagajin, dealing with the issue of garbage collection and disposal. The first meeting to finalize the project was held in Lod in September 1994, with the Mayor of Lod, the Mayor of Djagajin and the Deputy Mayor of Ramallah. The cooperation began with a European Union initiative, involving cities in the Middle East.

* Israeli, Jordanian, Egyptian and Palestinian environmental non- government organizations met recently in Taba. It was decided to establish a steering committee of these environmental NGO’s and to meet on a regular basis. It was furthermore decided to establish a joint Eco-Peace Task Force to monitor the effects of increased development on the environment. This initiative followed the success of the Casablanca economic conference. The Israel Union for Environmental Defence representative at the Taba conference stressed the need for a strong environmental response to the increased pace of development expected from economic and commercial measures. In addition to the I.U.E.D., three other Israeli NGO’s were represented: the Society for the Protection of Nature, "Life and Environment", and the Environmental Committee of the Israeli Economic Forum.

* The last months of 1994 witnessed great progress in regional environmental cooperation the proposal to establish a Bi-National Israeli-Jordanian Marine Park (part of the bilateral Israeli Jordanian environmental discussions), the Gulf of Aqaba project, increased cooperation on the protection of the Mediterranean Sea with Tunisia, and the possible establishment of a Middle East Environmental Information Centre in Bahrain, with the active participation of all Middle East countries.

* A desalination plant to meet Eilat’s growing need for drinking water is among the major new projects Mekorot, the national water company, intends to carry out in 1995. The plant in Eilat, where a pilot scheme is already in operation, would be followed by a much bigger desalination project to supply fresh water from the gulf to both Eilat and Aqaba in Jordan, in association with a Japanese company. Other Mekorot development projects include building a plant on the northern shore of Lake Kinneret to desalinate water from three briny springs. This water is to be used to boost Jordan’s water resources under the peace treaty. Some of the budget is to be used to renovate pumping equipment at the Sapir site of the national water carrier, in conjunction with an American firm, as well as to supply more recycled water for agriculture.

* December 29, 1994 – Two Egyptian companies, who received the concession from the Egyptian government to establish two solid waste disposal sites, are negotiating with Amnir (Paper and Plastic Recycling factory) and Nefro-Negev Ltd. to investigate the possibility that the Israeli companies carry out the projects. Furthermore, the chairman of the Association for Arab-Israeli Friendship, Mr. Yehushoa Meiri, announced in early December that Israeli environmental experts will submit a program to the government of Egypt for the recycling of waste and the production of glass, plastic, paper and fertilizer from this waste. In the near future, a delegation from the Egyptian Environmental Agency will come to Israel, and will visit specific projects in southern Israel.

CONFERENCES

* The Ministry of the Environment Director General, Dr. Israel Peleg, took part in a regional Mediterranean conference in Morocco dealing with environmental data banks and information centers in December 1994. During his time in Morocco, Dr. Peleg met with the Moroccan Minister of Tourism. Mr.. Serge Berdugo, discussing the subject of eco-tourism. Dr. Peleg invited his Moroccan counterpart to visit Israel during 1995, to develop the relations between the two countries and explore avenues of cooperation in the field of the environment.

* A conference held in Jerusalem in mid December 1994, entitled "Our Shared Environment" was organized by the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information. Participants at the conference agreed that data banks and the free flow of information are two of the most essential aspects of environmental protection.

* The International Institute for Marine Science in Eilat, together with the Ministry of the Environment will hold a conference on the "Ecological System of the Gulf of Eilat in the light of Economic Development of the Region and the Peace Process". The Ministry of Science and Arts and the Nature Reserves Authority are also involved in the conference, which is directed to marine scientists of the countries in the region, nature reserve experts and decision makers at the national and local governmental level. The conference will be held at the end of January 1995 in Eilat. Representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Europe and Israel will participate. Prof. Maria Snoussi from the Faculty of Sciences, University of Mohamed the Fifth, Rabat, Morocco, will present a special lecture at the conference.

* An international conference on the treatment of waste water and the prevention of water pollution will take place in Israel in October 1995, with the participation of representatives from the Middle East and the Mediterranean countries. The conference is being organized by the Dan Town Association Sewage Division, under the auspices of the Ministry of the Environment. The conference is aimed at professionals and scientists, and will also focus on the economic and administrative aspects related to waste water treatment, prevention of water pollution and the need for high quality effluents for reuse. Representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritius, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Malta and Portugal have been invited.

PROTECTION OF NATURE AND NATURE RESERVES

* The first group of overseas volunteers from "Earth Watch" arrived at the Coral Reef Nature Reserve in July 1994, to carry out follow-up and maintenance work related to nature protection in the area. The organization, centered in Boston, finances environmental and nature protection research worldwide and sends volunteers to carry our maintenance activities in various nature reserves. The three volunteers who arrived in Israel were professional divers who carried out research on various sea life in the Gulf of Eilat and also collected garbage from the seabed.

* During July-August, 250 Jewish and Arab youth collected garbage from the Tsalmon River in the Galilee, as part of a project organized by the Society for the Protection of Nature (Alon Tavor Field School), the Nature Reserves Authority, the Jewish National Fund and the Ministry of the Environment. In addition, the youth set up signs in Hebrew and Arabic calling on hikers and visitors to refrain from throwing garbage into the river and along the river banks, and placed garbage containers at various spots along the river.

* The Israeli cabinet endorsed the proposal to create "Craterland", a huge nature reserve comprising the Ramon, Large and Little Craters and the two smaller Arif Craters in the Negev desert. The proposal for the nature reserve was co-sponsored by the Minister of the Environment, Mr. Yossi Sarid, and the Minister of Tourism, Mr. Uzi Baram. The area holds nationally and internationally recognized unique natural assets. The Society for the Protection of Nature praised the decision. The SPNI and other conservation groups have been fighting a long battle to preserve the area as "wilderness" desert. As recognized geological assets, the craters will be protected from the arbitrary quarrying and mining which was being carried out in the area until the government decision. Such quarrying was being carried out by private companies operating without government licenses or environmental rehabilitation programs.

* The first ever dolphin census in the Haifa and Acre bays was held in November this year, with the help of Greenpeace advisors. The census was the initiative of the Sea Mammal Research and Rescue Centre and was carried out by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Haifa University and the Nature Reserves Authority. The need for a survey became apparent after more than a dozen dolphins washed up on local shores this year. A veterinarian who did postmortem examinations found high amounts of lead in the corpses.

* In November 1994, the Greenpeace ship, "Rainbow Warrior" docked in Haifa for three days, the second visit to Israel the ship has made. An open day was held on the ship for environmentalists and interested members of the public, and amongst the guests at the ship’s reception was the Director General of the Ministry of the Environment.

* The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is demanding that plans to establish a plant to bottle water from the Ein Gedi springs be shelved, unless the government can guarantee an adequate flow of water in the nature reserve. The plant is to be a joint project of the Jafra soft drink concern and Kibbutz Ein Gedi. At a meeting on the subject on Nov. 20, 1994, the SPNI stated that experts believe the reserve is already suffering from overdrawing from the area’s springs and where water once flowed all year round, is now almost completely dry between the months of May and August. The SPNI claims the Water Commission had never set any binding allocations for water in the Ein Gedi area, in contrast to arrangements prevailing in other areas of the country. It demanded that before any commercial project drawing on the water supply is approved, an independent study be made determining how much water is needed to preserve the unique plant and animal life in the area.

* December 1994 – Opposition by the Society for the Protection of Nature has stopped the establishment of a private tourist site at the Nahal Hawarim nature reserve, until further study is carried out on the matter, taking into consideration possible environmental damage. The Planning and Construction Committee of the Southern District has called for an environmental expert to be appointed to evaluate the various aspects of setting up a tourist centre at the Nahal (river).

* Politicians from across the political spectrum joined the Public Council for the Protection of Open Landscape and Land Resources, which was established on December 22, 1994. The formation of such a forum comes in response to the fact that "Israel is becoming one of the most crowded countries in the world" stated the Council organizers.

WASTE POLLUTION AND DISPOSAL

* The Ramat Hovav Hazardous Waste Site will buy an incinerator capable of burning 15,000 tons of organic waste a year. This follows an agreement signed this week by the Ramat Hovav Environmental Services Company and Banir, an Israeli company whose main shareholders include the Danish Danwaste company. According to the agreement, signed in October 1994, the incinerator should begin operating within a year. It will take up to four years to destroy the 35,000 tons of organic toxic waste which has built up at the site. Banir was chosen to establish the incinerator from nine companies specializing in burning hazardous waste. The selection process took a year, during which the Ramat Hovav Environmental Services Company was helped by Western European experts who examined the technical aspects of the offer, and two Israeli bodies who checked the economic aspects.

* The Arab town of Jizar El Zarka (on the coast near Kibbutz Magan Michael) will take part in an environmental project involving other Mediterranean countries. The project, under the auspices of the European Union Projects Council, includes cleaning of the coastal area, establishment of a park and protection of the environment. The other countries involved in the project are: Spain, France, Algeria, Morocco and Portugal.

* United Landfill Industries won the tender to operate the Duda’im landfill in the Negev. The equal partners in the winning bid are Mifalei Tovala, Hevrat Ta’avura, Tamam recycling industries and United Waste Systems, a U.S.company. Twelve groups vied for the franchise which lasts ten years. Presently, one of the other twelve groups who did not win the tender have taken their claims to court, and the operation will only begin once the court case has been settled. The Dudaim tender is a major step forward in the Ministry of the Environment’s plans to close some 400 garbage dumps – many of them unauthorized and unsupervised – and transport the waste instead to five or six national landfills. Dudaim is expected to replace Hirya, south of Tel Aviv, as the address for waste from the entire central region, after Hirya’s closure, scheduled for December 1995.

* The Ministry of the Environment is investigating the national phone company, Bezek, regarding suspicion that it dumped old switchboard batteries without treating the hazardous metals and acids found in them. The Minister of the Environment informed the company of the investigation and demanded the practice be halted.

* A joint operation committee, between the Ministry of the Environment and the Manufacturers’ Association was established in July 1994, to find solutions for industrial wastewater.

* New regulations forbidding the import or export of hazardous waste materials for purposes of disposal were signed in July 1994, coming into effect in October this year. The regulations were signed to prevent Israel from becoming a "dumping ground" for other countries’ waste, as well as to ensure it does not try to dump its waste in other countries. The import or export of hazardous waste for the purpose of recycling will be subject to various restrictions and such arrangements will be limited to those countries that have signed the Basel Convention governing the international transport of hazardous waste.

* In November 1994, Israel ratified the Basel Convention regulating the international transport of hazardous waste. Minister of the Environment, Mr. Yossi Sarid, who presented the convention before the cabinet for ratification, said the agreement has direct implications for local industries. If the convention had not been ratified, said Sarid, Israel would not be able to import or export hazardous waste serving as raw material for recycling industries in Israel. Beyond the importance of cooperating to protect the environment from dangerous materials, the ratification of a global convention is an important diplomatic step. The convention was drafted in 1989, when representatives of 150 countries gathered to discuss the problem of eliminating the millions of tons of hazardous and poisonous waste produced each year, mostly in industrialized countries. At the end of the meeting, 34 countries signed the convention. Since then, it has been ratified by 52 countries, coming into effect in May 1992. Israel signed the convention, but, like the European Union, ratified it only this year. Sarid stated that the proper disposal of hazardous waste is a priority for the Ministry of the Environment. The Ministry’s policy of prohibiting the import and export of hazardous waste for the purpose of disposal is in keeping with the Basel Convention.

* The Ministry of the Environment decided in mid-December 1994, to formulate a final policy (to be completed for government consideration within two months) regarding deposits on containers, to encourage consumers to return bottles and cans to collection depots. The policy is expected to be met with opposition from various government and industry sources.

* The Israel Union for Environmental Defence and several fishing companies filed a criminal complaint on Dec. 21, 1994 against polluters of the Kishon River. The complaint states that Haifa Chemicals Ltd. and Deshanim Fertilizers and Chemical Materials Ltd. have been dumping solid waste and waste water into the river in violation of the Pollution Prevention and Water Laws. The Kishon, the third largest river in Israel, passes the Haifa industrial area, where several companies pour their waste water, including hazardous and poisonous materials.

* The Industrialists Association, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Environment, established an administrative and professional committee for the treatment and management of industrial effluents. This is part of the growing cooperation between government, environmentalists and business in dealing with environmental problems.

* Twelve companies have applied for the tender to operate an administrative body which would help the Ministry of the Environment finance projects combatting environmental problems in existing factories. The aid will be given to combat problems of air pollution, waste-water, solid waste and hazardous materials, and will help cover costs of monitoring and neutralizing equipment, or moving over to environmentally friendly production processes and technology. The government grants will amount to 35% of the factories’ investment, with the maximum grant being NIS 1.1 million. The approved budget is some NIS 500 million over four years, with NIS 112 million for 1995. The administrative body would check factories’ grant requests and refer them for approval to the interministerial steering committee headed by the Ministry of the Environment Director General. According to Ministry estimates, NIS 1.6 billion will be invested by industry in environment related treatment over the next four years.

* In the beginning of 1995, a special plant treating the waste waters of a food factory in Rehovot will be instituted, and will use the treated effluents for electricity. This revolutionary system was introduced into Rehovot at a cost of $US 1.5 million by the South Yehuda environmental unit.

AIR POLLUTION

* In an effort to fight air pollution, the government will allocate NIS 120 million in 1995 to companies to help them clean up their operations. In addition the Ministry of the Environment has begun a project to establish a national air pollution monitoring system, which will provide information on specific sources of air pollution. This in turn will enable the Ministry and the public to know what needs to be tackled and what steps must be taken to eliminate air pollution.

LEGISLATION, LEGAL AND GOVERNMENT ACTION

* The Israel Union for Environmental Defence (I.U.E.D.) is expected to request a High Court interim injunction to stop the Trans-Israel Highway Company from beginning work on the first section of the planned Road 6, following the passage of the Trans-Israel Highway Law on 13.12.94. The law paves the way for a speedy process of land appropriation to hasten the construction of the road. The I.U.E.D is still awaiting the outcome of its previous High Court petition in June 1994, when the court ordered the Trans-Israel Highway Company to show why it had not carried out an environmental impact report for the entire length of the Negev-to-Galilee road, but only for sections. The company has asked for extra time to prepare its case. All the country’s environmental organizations have opposed the road.

* The amendment to the Business License Law, passed in second and third reading by the Knesset in August this year, gives the Ministry of the Environment a greater say in granting business permits and closing down factories causing environmental damage.

* The Ministerial Committee for Legislation, authorized two government bills: Business Licenses (Environment), and Business Licenses (Security Factories). The first Bill determines the authority of the Ministry of the Environment as regards business licensing, the setting of conditions under which it is possible to give warnings and closing orders to factories and businesses damaging the environment. This Bill was enacted after the government decision, approved in Knesset, to transfer this authority from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of the Environment. Under the second Bill, a security factory not complying with particular environmental standards, will be closed by order of the Minister of the Environment and a special inter-ministerial unit has been established to supervise the operations of such factories. The new unit will give licenses to security factories, supervise them, and can also order them closed if necessary.

* The government approved a budget of NIS 68 million for a national system to prevent and respond to accidents involving hazardous substances. The budget covers a four year period, beginning in 1995. The system was initiated by the Minister of the Environment, Mr. Yossi Sarid, and the government decision will enable the center to be equipped and operate, with the assistance of all emergency forces in the country, including the police, Magen David Adom, environmental organizations, factories and local authorities. The budget will also enable the forming of response teams, training of personnel and the purchasing of necessary equipment.

* The Israeli Police will increase enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, particularly those dealing with noise and littering in the public domain. This was agreed in a meeting between the Police Minister, Moshe Shahal and Minister for the Environment, Yossi Sarid, on December 28, 1994.

ECOLOGY COMPETITION AND EXHIBITION

* Eleven high school and art college students who participated in a European Union ecological competition held in Israel, won a trip to Europe. The competition was the first cultural cooperation project between representatives of the EU member states and the European Commission in Israel, which co-sponsored the project with the Science and Foreign Ministries. In addition to the competition for local youth, the project also involved bringing to Israel European artists specializing in recycling. They worked together with local artists producing creations from recycled materials such as tires, plastic bottles, bottle lids and scraps of paper and materials. Exhibitions of their work were held throughout the country.