It is known today that many of Israel’s environmental problems are caused by population growth and uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources. Migration to urban centers, where promising job opportunities, good services, and higher living standards are available, has exposed the residents of Israel’s cities to the harmful effects of industrial waste, air pollution, and growing quantities of trash and sewage. In the 1990s, a combination of rapid population growth, population congestion on the coastal plain, and growing demand for industry, agriculture, and transportation have placed the country’s natural resources under increasing pressure, leading to concern for the fate of the environment.

Comprehensive Planning

To confront these problems, a comprehensive planning system backed by an extensive set of laws was created. The 1965 Planning and Building Law embraces all levels of planning: local, district, and national. In 1992, the law was augmented by an order requiring the inclusion of an environmental-impact statement with every building-permit application. The Environmental Protection Service was established in 1973, and the Ministry of the Environment was founded in 1988 and was given jurisdiction in all environmental matters. Today, the Ministry participates in all land-use decisions at all levels of planning.

Water Quality and Scarcity

Scarcity of water is almost certainly Israel’s most fateful environmental and development problem. The decline in quality of water sources, caused by demographic, industrial, and agricultural pressure, is aggravating the scarcity problem. Israel’s water potential, 350 cubic meters per capita per year, verges on the lowest in the world.

All sources of surface and ground water are being used today, including springs, reservoirs, aquifers, and the Jordan River. Treatment of effluent for use has become an imperative. Arresting the damage to water quality is one of the country’s greatest challenges.

Air Quality

The factors that affect air quality in Israel are similar to those worldwide: fuel consumption by industry and motor vehicles, proliferation of private cars, and expansion of private industry. The Ministry of the Environment limits air pollution by means of physical planning, passive and active monitoring, emissions standards, and laws and orders that regulate and control air pollution.

Solid Waste

Incorrect or incomplete solutions to the problem of solid waste are having adverse effects on public health, water and land quality, nature preservation, and more. Solid waste disposal may be effected by landfill, incineration, and recycling. The landfill method is used for the disposition of 96% of waste in Israel; the country has 400 disposal sites, 29 of which receive 25 tons of solid waste per day. Most of the disposal sites are poorly planned and managed; many are already full. In June 1993, the Government adopted a proposal of the Ministry of the Environment to shut down 400 of these sites over the next five years and replace them with five properly managed landfill facilities. At the time the legislation for this action was passed, a new recycling law was drafted and appropriate incineration methods chosen.

Israel does not recycle its waste to the extent known in Western Europe, with the exception of paper products. To change this situation, various plans have been drafted and several pilot projects launched around the country, in concert with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Center for Local Government.

Environmental-Quality Budget

In 1993, two-thirds of the environmental-quality budget was used to prevent various kinds of pollution, with emphasis on the treatment of hazardous substances, air emissions, and solid waste. The remaining funds were invested in education under the slogan "The Year of the Environment," research assistance for organizations active in this field, revitalization of watercourses, and support for municipal authorities that make serious efforts to safeguard environmental quality.