Ombudsman warns Israel ‘has failed’ to prepare for major earthquake

After deadly temblor in Morocco, Matanyahu Englman urges PM to ‘correct the deficiencies immediately’ instead of waiting for tragedy to strike

Building rubble blocks a street in Mzouda village in Morocco's Chichaoua province following a devastating earthquake, on September 10, 2023. (Fethi Belaid /AFP)
Building rubble blocks a street in Mzouda village in Morocco's Chichaoua province following a devastating earthquake, on September 10, 2023. (Fethi Belaid /AFP)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman warned on Sunday that Israel has failed in its efforts to prepare for a major earthquake, following a temblor in Morocco that killed over 2,000 people.

“It seems that despite the warning signs, the State of Israel has failed in its preparation for an earthquake,” said Englman in a statement.

The ombudsman said this weekend’s quake in Morocco and a massive earthquake that killed more than 50,000 in Turkey and Syria earlier this year were a “painful reminder” of Israel’s need to ready for major seismic activity.

He also noted a report he issued in March that found 93 percent of at-risk buildings in northern Israel would collapse if a strong earthquake hits, and that 30% of earmarked schools had yet to be renovated.

“Instead of waiting for a commission of inquiry after a tragedy has occurred, the prime minister and the relevant minister must correct the deficiencies immediately,” he added.

Englman said he would release a more detailed report following the upcoming Jewish High Holidays that would include a review of efforts to protect hospitals, infrastructure and schools in case of an earthquake, and the extent of Israelis’ insurance coverage.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman at a Knesset committee meeting on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Echoing Englman, opposition Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli warned that Israel does not have any set plans in place for responding to an earthquake.

“If there’s an earthquake here tomorrow, very tough things will happen; there’s a total lack of preparedness,” Michaeli, who served as transportation minister from 2021 to late last year, told the Ynet news site.

Israeli experts have long been warning that the region is overdue for a major tremor, and that the country is woefully unprepared.

The head of the government’s earthquake preparedness committee warned lawmakers in February that the main cities were not fully prepared for a major earthquake. An earlier comptroller report found there were 600,000 buildings in the country that do not meet the standard for earthquake resistance.

The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured 700 — and seismologists estimate that such earthquakes occur in the area approximately once every 100 years.

Tel Aviv University researchers published a study in 2020 warning that such an earthquake, large enough to cause hundreds of fatalities, will likely hit the country in the coming years.

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