Despite legislation and incentives, the vast majority of structures in Israel have not undergone any fortification in preparation, leaving them extremely vulnerable to earthquakes; as Israel is on the Great Rift Valley, a large part of its periphery is particularly at risk, especially in lower income areas.
The earthquake in Italy on Saturday has caused the deaths of hundreds of people and according to experts, Israel is due to experience a similar earthquake itself. Local data on structure fortification, however, shows that Israel as a whole is woefully unprepared for such a scenario, particularly buildings that have not recently been fortified, but also some of those that have. A second problem is that almost no buildings in the country’s periphery have been fortified at all.
Eleven years after the Tama 38 bill aimed at fortifying older buildings was voted into law, only three percent of the public housing structures built before 1980 have been strengthened. Breaking down the data, this means that only 5,000 apartments in 430 buildings have been fortified, out of the 810,000 apartments and 120,000 buildings that are in need of such construction work—less than one percent of all the apartments due for fortification. 15,000 are currently being renovated in accordance to Tama 38, and 30,000 more have submitted a request to begin the process.
Approximately half of all the older buildings in Israel are three stories high or more, and many of them would completely collapse in the event of an earthquake, due to proximity to the Great Rift Valley that runs from Africa to Syria. Tiberias, Safed, Kiryat Shmona, Beit She’an and Eilat are all quite close to this potential earthquake focal point.
According to the latest State Comptroller report, until 2013 only 36 apartments were fortified in periphery areas more likely to suffer greater damage in the event of an earthquake. Most of these apartments were not reinforced due to it not being a very good financial investment, since the relatively lower price for real estate in the periphery makes it less lucrative for developers and renovators to offer to carry out such projects. This means that those who can afford to live in more expensive buildings have a better chance of surviving an earthquake.
Real estate company Madlan’s Research and Strategy Deputy CEO Raveh Eytan voiced his concern over the slow progress of building reinforcement in Israel.
“Even if we included all the Tama 38 fortification plans, as well as plans to demolish and rebuild current structures, they would all amount to only five percent of all the older apartments,” he said. Eytan estimated the damage that could be caused by such an earthquake as “unbelievable.”
The Government Steering Committee has set in motion a nation-wide disaster scenario of a strong earthquake reaching 7.5 on the Richter Scale and centered around Beit She’an were to hit Israel. 16,000 people are estimated to die in such an event, 6,000 will be seriously injured, 377,000 will be cleared from their homes, 10,000 buildings will be destroyed and 20,00 will suffer severe damage.
Even buildings whose structures have been strengthened are not guaranteed to withstand an earthquake, since some of the companies carrying out Tama 38 are inexperienced in the fortification process.
The chairperson for the Israel Engineers Association for Construction and Infrastructure, Danny Marian, has already repeatedly warned against this danger.
Business information company BDICode noted that since the Israeli government had first approved Tama 38 in 2005, many construction companies have begun offering their services, and that currently there are 900 companies that deal in Tama 38 and complete demolition and rebuilding projects. While some have gained the necessary experience, some companies are relatively new or lack the professional knowhow to do the job responsibly.
The Israel Engineers Association for Construction and Infrastructure sent a letter to the government last week, stating, “It is only a matter of time until the earth will shake in Israel, as well.”