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ISRAEL: Military complex on hold because of health concerns

BEERSHEBA, 15 November 2007 (IRIN) - Long-running reports of health impact of pollution on Bedouin families are now getting attention due to a proposed military base.

An Israeli district court in the southern city of Beersheba issued an injunction on 14 November ordering a temporary halt to the building of a military complex in response to a petition by environmental groups.

The groups are concerned that the proximity of the complex to the Ramat Hovav industrial zone would endanger thousands of civilian and military personnel expected to be based at the complex after its completion in 2012.

The environmentalists say reforms are needed to improve the handling of sewage from the plants and to significantly reduce air pollution. They further claim that communities in the Negev, including Bedouin Arabs, are already facing health problems from the complex.

"Ramat Hovav needs to be cleaned up. Many health experts say that the proximity to Ramat Hovav is related to the rise in cancer in Negev communities," Aviad Oren from the Israel Union for Environmental Defense told IRIN.

He said his organisation is lobbying the Knesset (parliament) to pass a Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution nationwide.

According to Israel's Ministry of Health, at least 5 percent of cancer cases in Israel are caused by pollution.

More cancer patients

Micha Barchanna, a health ministry employee, who released a draft report in October of a survey of cancer rates, said that in major cities cancer can be traced to factories or to general urban pollution.

In Beersheba district, an unprecedented rise in the number of cancer patients was observed. A 26 percent rise among men was noted between 1997 and 2005, while for women the increase stood at about 19 percent.

"The probability that Ramat Hovav contributes to the morbidity in Beersheba, well, it makes sense," Barchanna told IRIN.

However, both he and the ministry said further research was necessary to prove a connection - which has been rejected by Ramat Hovav. A committee of the Israel Cancer Association is expected to convene in December to investigate.

Bedouins want to relocate

Arab-Bedouins from the unrecognised village of Wadi Na'am live closest to the site. Bedouins, health and human rights groups and environmental organisations, based on Ministry of Health epidemiologic statistics, say their close proximity to the site has caused higher rates of miscarriage and birth defects in the village as well as a rise in the number of asthma patients younger than six. Skin and other cancer rates have also jumped.

A report, Life on the Edge, issued in September by a coalition of about ten Israeli NGOs, including Bimkom, maintains that the state failed to take preventative measures to protect the Bedouins of Wadi Na’am in case of a major accident in the industrial zone, especially after a phosphorus explosion in August created a panic in the Negev.

"The residents must be relocated to an area where they will be safe, without health hazards," said Nili Baruch, an urban planner with Bimkom.




Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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