Jerusalem residents suffer from some of the worst air pollution levels in the country.
Aiming to significantly curb the environmental hazards plaguing the capital city’s Arab neighborhoods, the government has approved a NIS 177 million plan to upgrade waste and sewage infrastructure in east Jerusalem.

The Environmental Protection Ministry program, approved in Sunday’s cabinet meeting, looks to overhaul and regulate systems that have become dangers to the health and quality of life of residents.

Pollution has become increasingly problematic in east Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods due to the rapidly growing population, coupled with a lack of suitable infrastructure and municipal services, according to the ministry.

“As someone who believes in a unified Jerusalem, I see east Jerusalem as a national project, and therefore the city cannot have a medieval-style sewage system,” said Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who also serves as Jerusalem affairs minister. “Connecting the Arab neighborhoods and handling sanitation issues will improve the quality of life and the environment for the residents of east Jerusalem.”

Trash piles up between and within neighborhoods, while raw sewage is discharged freely into the environment, a statement from the ministry said.

In many of these areas, there is also no organized removal of household waste, and residents are potentially exposed to pests and diseases.

As part of the newly approved program, about NIS 90m. will be allocated to handling household garbage, while NIS 16m. will go to the treatment, regulation and enforcement of construction waste, the ministry said. Meanwhile, Jerusalem’s Hagihon municipal water corporation will budget NIS 61m. toward establishing new sewage infrastructure and the Finance Ministry will fund NIS 10m. worth of educational, public relations and community activities in east Jerusalem.

“This is a very important and ethical step,” Environmental Protection Ministry director- general Yisrael Dancziger said. “We continue to lead in helping those who cannot afford to reduce pollution and environmental risks, regardless of religion or race.”

In addition to approving the NIS 177m. budget to solve east Jerusalem’s environmental problems, the government authorized on Sunday NIS 24m. in funds to reduce air pollution from public transportation across the capital city at large.