World media recently lauded a new project, backed by the World Bank, that will allegedly “save” the Dead Sea and prove that peace is possible through cooperation to manage natural resources. But the scheme only threatens to make an already disastrous situation worse, as well as robbing Palestinians of their right to water.
The Dead Sea, the fabled salt lake bordered by Jordan, present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank, is shrinking at an alarming rate of around 1.5 meters per year. As a result, hotels built right at the shoreline just a few years ago are now dozens of meters from the water’s edge.
Environmental assessment studies show that some of the damage done — for instance to the Eastern Aquifer Basin — is already irreversible. To slow and reverse this catastrophe, Israel and Jordan proposed in 2002 to build a 180-kilometer canal to replenish the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea. They claimed — falsely — that the project would prevent the destruction of the Dead Sea, but the plan never addressed the most obvious and direct cause: the diversion of the upstream waters of the Jordan River, which feed the salty lake, mainly by Israel.
As a consequence the natural flow of the Jordan River — the body of water in which Christian tradition holds that Jesus was baptized — has dropped from 1,350 million cubic meters (mcm) per year of fresh water to the Dead Sea, to a mere 20 mcm.
That is just two percent of its original flow. And even this sad remainder is mostly made up of raw sewage and brine — salty water — injected by Israel south of Lake Tiberias. Additionally, Israel’s Dead Sea industries — and on a smaller scale Jordan’s — extract potash (used for fertilizer) and other minerals from the southern end of the lake. This large-scale mining operation is greatly accelerating the disappearance of the Dead Sea. Palestinians, meanwhile — although they share the Dead Sea’s shore — have never been allowed to share in the region’s mineral wealth, nor to draw fresh water from the Jordan. more