Is the Dead Sea dying?

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Last month, the World Bank released an environmental and social feasibility study of alternatives for the $10 billion USD Red Sea-Dead Sea water transfer project.

The aim of the project is to restore the depleted Dead Sea by piping 2 billion cubic meters of Red Sea marine water each year from the Gulf of Aqaba through hydroelectric stations and desalination plants and on to the Dead Sea. The by-product would be a much-needed supply of freshwater.

However, Israel, which shares the Dead Sea with Jordan – located on the border between the two – says it does not support the controversial conduit. Its reservations stem from uncertainties about the environmental impact of mixing Red Sea water with the Dead Sea, as the mixture could result in an outbreak of bacteria and algae and the release of hydrogen sulfide into the air, thus endangering the Dead Sea’s unique ecology and related tourism.

“The Dead Sea is a unique natural resource and a rare and hasty decision may destroy it completely, and with it the tourism.” It is shrinking annually due to the pumping of water from Jordan River that flows into the Sea and feeds it, while the demise of the Jordan River has been attributed to the diversion of water from its tributaries. Israel has already committed to a 10-year plan that allocates some 1.5-2 billion cubic meters of water to its rivers during the next decade in order to replenish them.

Friends of Earth Middle East (FoEME) Israel, instead, prefers the option that would rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River, stabilize the Dead Sea, and makes sufficient water available to the neighbouring countries without the risk of undertaking an experiment that constitutes “playing God by mixing two seas”. The risks involved with such a maneuver also means that its delicate ecosystem may be disrupted and the area’s rare wildlife, including the griffon vulture, leopards, and ibex will be endangered.

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According to the UN, 41 percent of the world’s population lives in a water stressed area and Jordan is ranked among the five most water-scarce countries in the world. By 2020, the country’s existing water resources will meet only one-third of its needs, because increasing demand for water and a growing population have pushed water consumption in the kingdom beyond sustainable limits. The total volume of water on earth never changes, though water does take varying forms. Because different countries use, value, and access water differently, inequalities and inefficiencies have led to resource scarcity.

This unsustainable consumption has lead to over-use of groundwater resources, mostly by its neighbours, especially Israel, whose control of water resources has partially deprived Jordan of its fair share.

It is estimated that 70-90 percent of the waters of the Jordan are used for human purposes, hence the reduction in flow whose current use already exceeds renewable supply. The deficit is covered by the unsustainable practice of overdrawing highland aquifers, resulting in lowered water tables and declining water quality.

Additionally, the Gulf states also face a water shortage tied to hyper-arid climate, competing regional demands for water, and poor water management in consumption and irrigation.

Reported for OOskaNews.

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