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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A cycling tour to sound the alarm about the deteriorating state of the Dead Sea is planned for next month, hoping to attract those concerned that the area is heading toward an ecological disaster.
Cyclists will have the opportunity to ride over 260 kilometers during the January 24-26 competition known as the Tour de Dead Sea.
According to the Megilot Council, which organized the event, both professionals and amateurs are invited to be a part of the event, which aims to sensitize the public to the drastic drying-out of the Dead Sea. The tour's route circles the sea and includes areas in Israel and Jordan.
The event is being sponsored by the regional councils of Megilot and Tamar, private companies such as Skoda Israel, El Dan, IDE, Prima Oasis, and the factories of the Dead Sea. It has also been financed by the Tourism Ministry, the Israeli Embassy, and Jordan, and supervised by the Israeli and Jordanian Cyclist Union. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Research Center of the Dead Sea and GreenPeace have all recommended it.
The organizers aim to have many participants coming from abroad. During the last tour, there were Americans, Britons, Canadians and Germans, in addition to the Israeli and Jordanian bikers. This year, among the 110 people who signed up by mid-December, 31 were residents of Australia, India, the US, Spain or Sweden.
Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post French edition regarding the reasons to organize such a tour, Uriel Aharonov of the Megilot Council said he wanted to alert the public about the dangerous state of the Dead Sea - its water level decreases by one meter each year. He added that the factories near the Dead Sea were not responsible for the damage.
According to Aharonov, two factors in the Dead Sea's increasing dryness are the fact that the volume of water coming naturally from Lake Kinneret has decreased by 95 percent and that since the 1994 peace treaty, Israel provides Jordan with water even when the sea's dryness should not allow it.
He adds that the uniquely salty sea is suffering an ecological, economic and tourist-related catastrophe, which affects both Israelis and Jordanians.
For example, deep holes are regularly discovered in the region, the product of sudden settlings in the plot due to the growing dryness. In the end of November, some new holes were found about 25 meters from the highway.
Aharonov does not hesitate to voice his fears that the Dead Sea may disappear forever.
"As in biblical times, we still rely on the rain falling from the sky," he says.
Even if pumping out the water of the Jordan River seems to be for him the most natural solution, research into new solutions goes on. Among other possible ones is a canal crossing the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres is one of the supporters of that solution, in which France wants to participate. For Aharonov, as for many specialists in the region, this solution, which he qualifies as "the worst," is going to ruin the local ecosystem.
The best solution, he says, is to mix the drinking water of the Jordan River, but not the salted water of the Red Sea, which would lead to an ecological disaster.
The main goal of the tour is not a political one. It is, rather, an alarm bell being rung for the national and international public in order to warn of the potential damage to the area.
"This international rally is the basis for future cooperation," hopes Aharonov. "Our goal is that it will contribute to the transformation of the region as a world heritage protected by UNESCO, which will allow it to develop economically and as a tourist site from both sidea of the Dead Sea."
The author of this article is the editor-in-chief of 'The Jerusalem Post' French edition.