FROM THE OUTGOING DIRECTOR GENERAL, DR. URI MARINOV
Dr. Uri Marinov has stood at the forefront of Israel’s environmental administration from its creation, in 1973, to the present. During what may be termed the "Stockholm to Rio" era, he served as director of the Environmental Protection Service in the Ministry of the Interior and later as director general of the Ministry of the Environment. Following are some of his thoughts as he leaves the Ministry of the Environment:
Shoshana Gabbay: What were the highpoints of your tenure as director general of the Ministry of the Environment and its predecessor, the Environmental Protection Service?
Dr. Uri Marinov: For me, the most gratifying experience was the government decision to establish the Ministry of the Environment in 1988. In light of the fact that the environmental cause does not enjoy the political status in Israel as it does in the Western world, the very establishment of the ministry was by no means an obvious move.
Going back 19 years, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Service in 1973 was a very exciting moment as well, full of promise. However, the Yom Kippur War, which broke out only a few short months later, shattered most of our hopes and aspirations for the EPS. For many years, we remained a small, though dedicated group in government, frequently unable to implement our policies, unable to accord the environmental issue the legitimacy it deserved.
S.G: What are your feelings at this junction in your life as you leave this office?
U.M: I must admit to mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m quite happy and proud of what we have accomplished. We started the environmental movement in Israel 22 years ago in one room with one person and a part-time secretary. Today, the ministry and the environmental units which operate under its auspices number over 350 people. From nearly zero public awareness, we have made great strides in increasing environmental understanding and awareness among all sectors of the public. Laws were passed, regulations promulgated, monitoring networks established, law enforcement started. Environmental education now exists in every school in the country; environmental impact assessment is done for almost every project. We have participated in the global environmental effort in Stockholm, Barcelona and Rio, and we are taking part in the multilateral peace negotiations on the environment.
But above all else, our most obvious success was in being able to attract to the environmental field a very large, dedicated group of professionalsthe very best in the countrywho could well serve in any environmental ministry in the Western world or as faculty members in the most prestigious universities. We have developed unusual working relationships, not usually found in government offices, and our techniques and system of environmental management can serve as a model for every country. Very few people have the opportunity to start something new in their lifetime. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to help create three new things: the Division of Life Sciences in the National Council for Research and Development, the Environmental Protection Service and the Ministry of the Environment. I am proud and grateful to have played my part in all of these.
Yet, I cannot deny my sadness as I leave the ministry, first and foremost because I’ll miss the company of the staff, some 70% of whom were chosen for their position by me personally. We are all looking forward to a new era in the ministry, with a full-time strong minister who can complete the reorganization of the ministry and can give new impetus to the cause of the environment. I expect all these to happenbut without my presenceand that is a bit disappointing.
S.G. What do you see as the challenges which this ministry must tackle in the post-Rio era?
U.M: First the ministry will have to finish reorganizing, especially in the areas of water quality, sewage, solid waste disposal and recycling. The challenge of enforcement, especially on public bodies such as municipalities and government-owned corporationsa task which is difficult in any case and much more so in Israelwill be a major challenge. The ministry will have to increase its budget substantially in order to be able to cope with the construction of essential environmental infrastructures in such areas as sewage treatment plants, solid waste disposal and marine pollution abatement, emergency response and equipment.
In the days ahead, the ministry will need to expend major efforts in increasing the professional capability of its staffers, in creating environmental units in those municipalities in which units do not yet exist, in continuing to be an integral part of the regional efforts to protect the environment in the Middle East within the framework of the peace negotiations, and in exposing every child to a real understanding of the problems of pollution and natural resource depletion.
S.G. What are your plans for the future?
U.M: I have been contacted by numerous people, some former ministers and director generals, and they have assured me that there is "life after government." By all means, I intend to stay within the field of the environment. Both in the world of the university and in the private sector, I will continue to devote my time to environmental management. In fact, I intend to establish a consultancy company on environment and development to advise governments and organizations, in Israel and abroad, on such subjects as environmental management and development. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity, to thank my colleagues and friends, worldwide, for their continued interest in the Israeli environment, and I look forward to continuing our contacts in the future.