Fight the Receding Dead Sea
    2009-08-27 12:21:39     APTN      Web Editor: Jiang Aitao

(Video APTN)

With its unique minerals and waters, the Dead Sea has been luring visitors for thousands of years.

Now it's been shortlisted for a place on the "New 7 Wonders of Nature" list ( July 2009) .

But these days tourists see a very different lake from the one that others would have witnessed a few decades ago.

The Dead Sea's surface has been reduced by a third since the 1960's.

In the last 40 years the water level has gone from 394 meters to 418 below sea level.

This is mainly due to a sharp decline of incoming water from the Jordan River, its main affluent.

Today, the Dead Sea continues to drop at the rate of about 1 meter per year.

This dramatic shortage is particularly evident at Israel's Ein Gedi Spa, on the southern shores of the Dead Sea.

The Ein Gedi Spa offers treatments with the mineral-rich Dead Sea mud.

Spa Manager Alon Shachal is standing by the showers and mud application place where he snapped two photographs in 1986 and 1987.

His old pictures show clearly that in the 1980's the Dead Sea shore and beach were only meters away from here, while today they can be reached only after a one-kilometre drive.

"In 30 years, the beach (will have) disappeared", says Shachal.

Since the early 1990's, the Ein Gedi Spa has been offering transport to take tourists to the beach.

Along the asphalted road, blue signs mark the point once reached by the water in various years since 1985, illustrating the lake's dramatic shrinking.

Dried up land has now replaced the Dead Sea's viscous waters.

At the beach, lifeguard Roy Israeli looks out as bathers float in water, his hut uncharacteristically standing on wheels.

Israeli explains that the wheels are needed to move the lifeguards' outpost every month in order to run after the receding shoreline.

A few meters away, a group of showers are also being pushed forward every 3-4 weeks.

The need to change the status quo and find a solution to the Dead Sea's alarming shrinking has been evident for years to 'Friends of the Earth Middle East', a non-governmental organisation that brings together Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian environmentalists.

Iyad Aburdeieneh, Project Coordinator for the Palestinian office of 'Friends of the Earth Middle East', warns that without any action the Dead Sea will soon be reduced to the size of a very small lake.

His colleague Gidon Bromberg, from the Israeli office, points to what he says is the main reason for the Dead Sea shrinkage: the Jordan River no longer flows into the Dead Sea.

Ninety-five per cent of the Jordan's waters, says Bromberg, have been diverted by Israel, Syria and Jordan to serve for domestic and agricultural purposes.

Standing where the former Lido Cafe used to be - it was a Dead Sea tourist hotspot in the '40s and '50s - Bromberg says the lack of inflow is responsible for 60% of the Dead Sea water reduction.

The Lido Cafe had to close down after the shore rapidly disappeared.

Bromberg says the rehabilitation of the Jordan River and a renewed influx of its waters into the Dead Sea is one of the keys to saving the lake.

He believes this will be possible through better water management in this extremely dry region.

One of the ideas is using waterless toilets and stopping some of the most water-consuming agricultural projects, like growing fruits in desert areas.

In addition to this, 'Friends of the Earth' advocates establishing the Dead Sea as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This would provide protection from further degradation and make the area eligible for financial assistance towards preservation projects.

Palestinian and Israeli officials agree that there should be better management of the Jordan River, but think it's quite unrealistic to expect this to happen soon and don't believe it is the final answer to save the Dead Sea.

Both Shaddad Attili, Head of the Palestinian Water Authority, and Galit Cohen, Head of the Environmental Policy Division at the Israeli Environment Ministry, say the Jordan River supplies water of vital importance to the local population and is desperately needed for domestic usage.

In a water-scarce region like this area of the Middle East, other solutions have been assessed.

The so-called Red-Dead Canal offers an alternative to the Jordan River rehabilitation.

It is currently being studied by the World Bank, which has been put in charge of the project by the governments of Jordan, Palestinian Authority and Israel.

The idea is to transfer water from the Gulf of Aqaba and Eilat in the Red Sea through a pipeline running for 180 kilometers to the North, into the Dead Sea.

Initially the water would compensate the inflow reduction from the Jordan River.

But the idea is to also use the Red-Dead Canal to generate hydropower and for part of the conveyed water to be desalinated and used for drinking purposes.

Though seemingly good on paper, the Red-Dead Canal project is highly controversial.

Both Israeli and Palestinian officials stress that everything will be on hold until 2011, when the World Bank study will be completed and all potential ecological risks will have been carefully evaluated.

Galit Cohen, Head of Environmental Policy Division at Israeli Environment Ministry says they "need is a lot of research to understand what is going to happen to the water in the Dead Sea after mixing those two kind of waters. And there is a lot of questions, there is a lot of environmental questions, there is a lot of ecological questions."

There is a risk that the two waters will not mix at all, and that the Dead Sea's blue waters may turn into a reddish colour (the Red Sea is a red coral-rich area) and that new substances and algae may be introduced into the Dead Sea.

A final outcome on the Red-Dead Canal will be presented by a panel of internationally recognized experts who are currently evaluating the ecological, technical and social impact of the project, including its potential disruption of archaeological areas.


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