Much of the garbage along Israel’s shoreline originated in Egypt and Lebanon.
By Zafrir Rinat | Mar. 17, 2014

The countries of the European Union and the Mediterranean will not succeed in carrying out their ambitious task of treating the main concentrations of pollutants in the sea by the end of the decade. When 2020 rolls around, it will apparently be possible to deal with only about half of the 130 major polluting sites.

This was the assessment on Sunday by Nicholas Hanley, Head of International, Regional and Bilateral Relations at the European Commission Directorate-General for the Environment. On Tuesday Henley will participate in the Environment 2050 conference at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv. He comes to Israel from Amman, where an up-to-date picture of the treatment of pollution problems was presented at a meeting of representatives of the Mediterranean countries.

Eight years ago the Mediterranean countries and the EU adopted a resolution to apply a policy of treating the major concentrations of contamination around the Mediterranean by the year 2010. In the framework of the resolution, 130 such sites were identified throughout the countries of the region. Most of the sites are in urban areas that discharge municipal and industrial sewage into the sea, or where there are large waste disposal sites that get partially washed out the sea.

“Apparently by the target date we will be able to deal with about half the sites,” said Hanley, “but it is possible that there will be new sites because of population growth and the increased rate of consumption of various products in some of the countries.”

He offered the example of urban areas in Egypt that are developing without suitable infrastructures, where some of the waste ultimately finds its way into the Mediterranean Sea.

Implementation of the plan for dealing with the contaminants has encountered many difficulties, in part because of the severe political crises in the region. Hanley noted that in recent years the Syrian government has not been involved in dealing with the problem due to the situation in the country. In Libya too, the situation is not simple but a representative of that country did participate in the meeting last week.

However, there has been success in dealing with the sewage problems in the area of Lake Bizerte in Tunisia near the Mediterranean coast. In some places the contamination problems continue even after the construction of sewage and waste treatment plants as a result of the inability on the part of the state or local authorities to maintain the facilities over time.

According to Hanley, it is still hard to estimate the extent of the overall improvement in the state of the sea pollution. “It’s very hard to assess because from some of the countries we aren’t receiving information or the information is incomplete. What is certain is that without this initiative the situation would be far worse.”

Israel is among the countries that have taken part in the initiative to deal with focal points of contamination. In recent years it has succeeded in almost entirely stopping the flow of urban sewage into the sea.

Along Israel’s shoreline there is evidence of regional disposal of polluting wastes into the sea from places like a large dump site operating on the shore of the city of Sidon in Lebanon or from waste originating in Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Three weeks ago the environmental non-profit organization Zalul held a meeting on the problem of waste on the beaches. During the conference Galia Pasternak of the Environmental Protection Ministry reported that along a number of beaches in Israel, most of the waste is from neighboring countries or from ships, though in a national count most of the waste on the beaches comes from local beachgoers. Pasternak identifies the items on which some of the lettering has been erased by means of the barcode numbers imprinted on them. The first three digits indicate the country of origin. Thus, it emerges that many of the waste items along Israel’s shoreline come from Egypt and Lebanon.