Dead Sea unlikely to be world wonder

It must have official support committee from Israel, Jordan and PA.

dead sea 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
dead sea 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Dead Sea must have an official support committee from Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority by July 7 to qualify as one of the new seven wonders of the world, according to Gura Berger from the Megilot Dead Sea Regional Council. But it is only Israel that has a committee so far - the Megilot Dead Sea Regional Council. Tia Viering, head of communications for the New7Wonders Foundation, confirmed that the Dead Sea risks disqualification without joint sponsorship from all the committees. The New7Wonders Foundation was created in 1999 by Bernard Weber to name seven new wonders of the world through the New7Wonders of Nature campaign. The Dead Sea is ranked number ten in its category, but that is subject to change every day, Viering said. On July 7, 2009, the top 77 will be chosen. People around the world can vote online. Viering said letters were sent to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority asking each one to form a committee. Khouloud Daibes of the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Tourism said, however, she had not received an official request from the New7Wonders foundation. After she received the request, it would be taken to the PA to work out the details, such as the conditions of the campaign, she added. Fayiz Khoury from the marketing department of the Jordan Tourism Board, said that the competition was becoming too commercial. "We did not want to be in a new competition," Khoury said. In 2006, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan was chosen as one of the seven wonders, which boosted tourism, but people "will not have the same competition to vote [this time]," he said. "We are concentrating on the pope's visit [next month]." Voting for the new seven wonders is to continue over the Internet through 2010 and 2011, and the winners will be announced in 2011. As things stand, the Dead Sea is in danger of not being recognized as one of the seven wonders of the world. "Unfortunately, it's a possibility," said Abdelrahman Sultan, deputy director of Friends of the Earth Middle East in Amman. Sultan added that this was not a priority right now for the Jordanian government. Mira Edelstein, who works in resource development for Friends of the Earth Middle East, said one of the ongoing concerns about the Dead Sea was the water level. The Dead Sea has been receding by about a meter a year, Edelstein said. One proposed solution is to build a 200 km canal from Akaba to the Dead Sea to raise the level, Edelstein said. The World Bank funded the initial study of this proposal with $15 million, and the project would cost an estimated $5 billion. The study is scheduled to be complete in another year. Friends of the Earth Middle East expressed concern about the idea of a canal. "Our biggest fear is what would actually happen when you put in marine water," Edelstein said. Preliminary research indicated that the ecological balance of the sea and possibly the color would be changed, she said. "It could change to a maroon red," Edelstein said. In addition, new algae could grow. The water brought in is marine water, not fresh water, she said. The Gulf of Akaba could also be negatively affected due to a change in currents and temperature, and the coral reef could be harmed, she added. Although the marine water would undergo a process of desalination, the resulting brine water would be dumped into the Dead Sea. As a result of mixing water, people may no longer be able to float easily in the Dead Sea, due to the change of the chemical composition, Edelstein said. Also, the water's therapeutic qualities which have made it famous and attracted tourists from around the world may be harmed. It would be better to put water in the Dead Sea that would result "as closely back to the natural situation as possible," she said. In addition, the canal would be built along the Jordan Valley, an area prone to earthquakes, Edelstein said. One quake could cause a pipe to leak and would pollute the underground aquifers, she warned. "We're trying to save something here and making many more problems," Edelstein said. "It's such a unique gem of the world we're playing with." The canal is also supposed to address the problem of water shortage in Jordan, Edelstein said. If it is built, an estimated 1.8 million cubic meters would be taken from the Gulf of Akaba and undergo desalination to be used as drinking water. An estimated 70 percent would go to Jordan, 15 percent to Israel and 15 percent to the Palestinian territories. "It's a dream," Sultan said, "People are dreaming to have this canal. [But] it's giving false hope to people." Sultan noted that because the project could cost up to $10 billion, and the world is currently experiencing an economic recession, he did not know if the international community would provide financial support. The canal would take 10 to 15 years to be built, and there is still the water shortage problem to be dealt with in the meantime, he said. He said the canal project should be thoroughly researched before Jordan and Israel waste their precious water resources. Friends of the Earth Middle East would like other options to be researched for raising the Dead Sea level. One of these is to find out why about 95 percent of the Jordan River is being diverted, as it was once a water source for the Dead Sea, Edelstein said. This contributed about 60 to 70 percent of the Dead Sea's decline, she said, adding that the other 30 to 40 percent are from the mineral industries in Jordan and Israel. Sultan said other options to be researched include rehabilitating the Jordan River and the better use of water technology - such as water waste management, desalination and new irrigation methods. The World Bank agreed to study the Jordan River rehabilitation, but was not putting it out as an independent study, Edelstein said. They have funded it, but left it in the hands of the government as opposed to employing independent researchers, which would be more costly. Edelstein suggested another option. "What we're interested in is promoting the Dead Sea as world heritage site," she said. Under the world heritage site requirements, no harm can be done to the Dead Sea. Jordan is reluctant to sign on until it sees what happens with the canal, as it is interested in the drinking water, Edelstein said. "They think we need more time to develop the Dead Sea," Sultan said, referring to the lucrative hotel industry on the Jordanian side. One of the ongoing problems at the Dead Sea is that sink holes can open up suddenly, Edelstein said. "It's really hazardous," she said, adding: "The roads are in danger." So far, no deaths have been reported, but there have been cases of people falling and injuring themselves. The sink holes suddenly open up and are located between one meter and eight meters below the surface, she said. On the Israeli side, all new development for tourism has been halted, including hotels and roads, pending the results of the Dead Sea study, Edelstein said.