Dead Sea under threat: the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. The largest natural spa in the world--everybody can float in its salt and mineral rich waters--Aristotle praised its remarkable properties. Cleopatra extolled its medicinal and cosmetic potential and later, the Nabateans extracted hundreds of tons of its bitumen, to be used by generations of Egyptians in the process of embalming mummies. Now this historic sea is in danger of extinction. (Mosaic)
Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) has warned that the Dead Sea--a UNESCO World Heritage site--may virtually vanish by 2050 if nothing is done to arrest the falling water level. The growth in tourism and industrial factories have been singled out as the main causes for the pending extinction.
Forty years ago, the Dead Sea was 392 metres below sea level. Today, it is around 412 metres below sea level and decreasing by around one metre every year. If this trend persists over the next 10 years, the Dead Sea will lose one-third of its area--receding from 1,000 sq km at the beginning of the 1960s to around 650 sq km.
The water level fluctuates throughout the year depending on the amount of water reaching it from various tributaries. These yearly fluctuations can be as much as one metre between the wet and dry seasons, so measurements are made during the various seasons and compared with corresponding seasons from previous years.
The extent of the threat has led to regional cooperation between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, culminating in a Red Sea/Dead Sea pipeline project, estimated to cost between $850m and $1m. The envisaged pipeline will pump, politics permiting around 450m cubic metres of water from the Red Sea into the Dead Sea annually--thereby saving the Dead Sea from extinction.
At a later stage, private investors will be asked to set up desalination and electricity-generating plants along the pipeline on a build, operate and transfer (BOT) basis. Currently on the drawing board is a 10 km canal straddling the Aqaba-Eilat border and extending northwards. The pipeline will connect the canal's northern tip and run 210 km northwards at a gradual elevation, eventually reaching a height of 126 metres above sea level. From there, the transported water will begin its descent into the Dead Sea.
The so-called Red/Dead pipeline made headlines during the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa last year, when politicians and leading environmentalists from Jordan and Israel held a press conference to publicise the threat to the Dead Sea and to generate financial interest. The Red/Dead pipeline's two leading advocates--Bassem Awadallah, Jordanian Minister of Planning, and Roni Milo, then Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation--accepted a peace prize in February 2003 from the International Organisation for Peace through Tourism--an organisation based in Geneva under the auspices of the UN.
Roni Milo recently updated The Middle East on progress to date: "A team from the Israeli Geological Institute are working on a feasibility study with the Geology Department from Amman University. We need to be 100% confident there will be no environmental consequences from mixing water (with different salt levels) from the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. …