Israel is woefully unprepared for a major earthquake that could kill 7,000 and leave 170,000 homeless, having failed to implement most of the recommendations outlined in numerous reports, according to the state ombudsman.
The Wednesday report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira came a week after a wave of minor tremors near the Sea of Galilee rattled the country.
The report found that an earthquake would cause serious damage to the underwater natural gas pipeline, the fuel lines, the water mains, airports, and general transportation. Schools, hospitals, tourist sites and public buildings are not equipped to withstand a big quake, Shapira warned.
“Catastrophic damage to people and property due to an earthquake is not inevitable,” Shapira said, instructing the government to take steps to ensure the country is prepared.
Shapira, citing a 2011 report on possible casualties, cautioned that an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale with its epicenter in Beit She’an Valley could kill as many as 7,000 people, leave tens of thousands injured, 8,600 of them seriously.
The report found that such a scenario could leave 170,000 homeless. Some 9,500 people could be trapped inside collapsed buildings, according to the ombudsman.
Shapira called on the emergency services and local municipalities to review the country’s readiness.
State Comptroller reports reviewing Israel’s earthquake response in 2001, 2004 and 2011 found that no funding had been allocated to reinforce older buildings and other precautionary measures, due to spats between ministries over responsibility for the work.
Out of 1,600 schools deemed three years ago to be in danger of collapsing, just 50 have since been reinforced, the report said, with another 200 still in the planning stage.
In 2008, the government announced it would strengthen public buildings including hospitals, but the report found that to date no major improvements have been made at all.
Of the 300 dangerous material factories ordered two years ago by the Ministry of Environmental Protection to reinforce their structures, only 100 had received guidelines on how to do so.
Very few people are financially prepared for a major quake, the report found. Few have purchased adequate insurance and the government does not have policies in place to grapple with the economic consequences of a large earthquake.
Experts have warned that a large earthquake will almost certainly strike Israel in the near future. The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured 700.