River Jordan a “sewage pipe”

The continued dumping of untreated or partially treated sewage into rivers and streams is the number one source of dangerous pollution in Israel, the Ministry for Environmental protection has said.

[Read this report in Arabic]

Municipalities are responsible for sewage treatment, but high costs of treating sewage and building new treatment plants have prompted many local councils to dump the sewage wherever they can, ministry officials said.

Critics have said the fines imposed on municipalities that break the law are so low as to encourage dumping and non-treatment of waste water. In 2003, for example, Raanana Municipality, in central Israel, admitted to having knowingly contaminated Poleg beach via Poleg river for several years, and was fined 480,000 shekels (about US$100,000).

"I hope that a new sewage treatment plant will be operating in some six months time,'' Uri Keidar, director of the municipality, recently told reporters, although there are doubts as to whether this timetable is realistic.

In 2007 alone, over 40 Israeli beaches were contaminated due to overflow of sewage systems, harming delicate marine life in places like Eilat on the Red Sea.

"This is due to the old and failing sewage systems that need upgrading urgently," Josef Amar, who is responsible for the national beaches at the Interior Ministry, said recently.

The River Yarkon in the central region was also polluted by ill-treated waste water, while the River Kishon, near the northern city of Haifa, is contaminated due to the dumping of industrial waste.

The River Jordan, mentioned in the Bible and considered by many a holy site, has also not escaped pollution.

“Sewage that has only undergone basic treatment is dumped into the southern Jordan river turning it into a sewage pipe,” said Hillel Glasman of the Israeli Parks and Nature Reserves Authority.

A project to treat this waste has been discussed for 10 years, but sewage continues to endanger the delicate river ecosystem, experts said.