Dead Sea falling

Can a Red-Dead canal save the sea?

The state of the Dead Sea is exceptionally complex and alarming due to the fact that it suffers simultaneously from two acute problems. While the level of the northern section of the sea has been continuously falling at an ever increasing rate over the years, the level in the southern section has been rising to an extent that has given rise to serious fears that it could flood the hotels built along its shorefront.

The damage to the sea is entirely man-made. The falling levels in the northern section is a direct outcome of the shutting down of the Deganya dam and the halting of the water flow into the Dead Sea. This water is being carried to center of the country through the National Water Carrier.

Israel is not the only one to have shut off the flow of water into the Dead Sea. Both the Jordanians and Palestinians are using water that should be reaching the sea for drinking and agricultural purposes, and the Dead Sea is paying the price. As a result of the acute fall in water levels, huge sink holes, of more than a meter in diameter, have opened up on the surface. These pose a grave safety hazard since they have been appearing not only under the palm tree groves along the shoreline, but also in footpaths and roads. One such large hole even opened up in the Ein Gedi parking lot, posing a grave danger to users.

The southern section of the Dead Sea is suffering from an acute increase in water level because of the activity of the Dead Sea Works, which pumps out water from the sea, harvests the potash from it and then dumps the salt sediment back into the sea. The salt is the factor that makes the water levels rise. The government undertook, in the Dead Sea Works privatization agreement, to deal with the rising water levels, but nothing has been done so far. In 2006 the Ministry of Tourism allocated millions of shekels for a solution to the problem, but this would be a temporary measure only. So severe is the crisis that some researchers have been calling for the hotels to be relocated elsewhere.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has determined that the government must find an immediate solution to the problem. Such a solution has yet to be found. Among the ideas being mooted is a proposal by former Vice Premier and new President Shimon Peres to excavate a canal connecting the Dead Sea and Red Sea, as part of a regional peace project. The proposal also calls for the construction of hotels, power plants, fish ponds, and other facilities along the canal's waterfront. The Jordanians, who were consulted on the proposal, were enthusiastic about it and approached the World Bank, which offered to help.

But even before any serious research has been conducted, a number of experts have already ruled that the proposal is a bad solution, since the Dead Sea has been supplied, until now, with fresh water from the Jordan river. Pumping saline water from the Red Sea could, they believe, cause layering in the sea bed, which would turn the Dead Sea water into lime. Other experts claim that migrating birds could get confused and decide to stay in, of all places, the proposed fish pools.

Minister of National Infrastructures Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has already turned down the initiative on the grounds that most of the projects are based on Jordanian territory in any case, and that Israel should therefore avoid excessive intervention in its neighbors' business.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on July 18, 2007

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2007

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