A desert canyon leads in to the Dead Sea .
(photo credit: ARIK BAREL)
The Dead Sea is slowly fading away. Each year the water level recedes another meter or so and more and more sinkholes appear along the shoreline, swallowing up gas stations, restaurants, agricultural fields and beaches. This unique, one-of-kind ecosystem is disappearing, yet the government seems not to care.
The reasons for the Dead Sea’s decline are clear – fresh water that once flowed from the Sea of Galilee down the Jordan River to replenish the Dead Sea no longer does so. This water, around a billion cubic meters per year, is diverted for the domestic and agricultural needs of Israel, Jordan and Syria.
In a water-scarce region like ours, human need for water is always going to come before the needs of nature. However, to simply write off the disappearance of the Dead Sea as the unavoidable outcome of the growing human need for water is unacceptable.
Solutions to offsetting the Dead Sea’s rapid decline are known and have been tested. It is not feasible to expect water to return to the Dead Sea via the Jordan River, but bringing water from the Red Sea or the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea is possible, from both an economic and an engineering standpoint. The idea of conveying sea water to the Dead Sea is not new – Theodor Herzl himself envisaged such a project. But unlike during Herzl’s time, today we possess the technologies for such a project, while at the same time being able to mitigate any environmental concerns related to the mixing of sea water with Dead Sea water. Such a project will not reverse the Dead Sea’s decline but it will slow it dramatically, while at the same time providing desalinated water and energy for Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
A project of this scope, while technically feasible, requires vision and leadership. A project such as this can only move forward if there is political will to make it happen. Despite a number of agreements, going back now more than a decade, the project still remains on the drawing board. Most of the parameters to convey Red Sea water to the Dead Sea are known, as are the potential risks to the Dead Sea and to the potash industry. Yet, our government procrastinates. I am under no illusions regarding the political sensitivities for such a project, but a pilot phase has been agreed to by Israel and Jordan. Nonetheless, actual implementation still has not begun.
For every year of inaction, the Dead Sea declines another meter and more sinkholes open up, causing more havoc. Do we need to wait for tragedy to strike, such as the closure of Highway 90, in effect cutting Kibbutz Ein Gedi off from the outside world, before the government will take action? To my chagrin, it seems so, because as far as the government is concerned it’s still business as usual at the Dead Sea.
Perhaps when tourists are no longer be able to visit Masada the government will finally make saving the Dead Sea as a national and international priority.The author is Director of the Center for Transboundary Water Management at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.