The Dead Sea, occupied West Bank – On the Dead Sea’s coast in the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers, Palestinians and tourists make the downhill trek from the former waterline to its new resting place.
The Dead Sea, a unique body of water marked by mineral-rich, unusually salty water – nearly 10 times saltier than the world’s oceans – is dying. Its water level is dropping by roughly one metre each year.
“We think that the current situation is an ecological disaster,” said Gidon Bromberg, director of EcoPeace Middle East (EPME), an organisation that brings together Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists to protect their shared environmental heritage.
“It’s unacceptable: The unique ecosystem is in severe danger, threatening biodiversity, and you see dramatic sinkholes opening up along the shore,” Bromberg said, referring to the large, unpredictable cavities that have appeared recently. Some are so cavernous that they swallow entire structures.
According to Bromberg, the two main reasons for the dropping water level are mineral extraction by Israeli and Jordanian companies in the artificially shallow southern basin, and the fact that 95 percent of the Jordan River – the Dead Sea’s main source of replenishing water – is being diverted. The river used to provide 1,350 million cubic metres of water each year (mcm), but that flow has dwindled to just 20 mcm.
Israel, Jordan, and the occupied West Bank all border the Dead Sea, and have taken steps to deal with its disappearance. The first concrete plan was signed in 2005, when all three parties signed a letter to the World Bank that allowed the international financial institution to investigate the feasibility of a $10bn project to pump 850 mcm of water from Jordan’s section of the Red Sea to a desalination plant at the southern end of the Dead Sea.
The 2,000 mcm of ultra-saline brine that results from the desalination process would then be pumped to the Dead Sea over the course of 40 years. Bromberg said EPME was unable to support this project, because the “environmental impact was unknowable”.
A main concern for environmental groups has been the effect that introducing such high volumes of foreign brine water would have on the Dead Sea’s unique ecosystem, which features unique bacterial and fungal life forms.
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