Earlier this week Channel 11 KAN aired remarkable footage of Israel's new secret river. Stunning pictures showed a powerful river swelled by the recent rains cutting through the rocks of what looks like a Negev canyon - a stream of blue in the stark, arid landscape. The TV station's correspondent Oren Aharoni declared the find as if he had discovered a new continent in the heart of Israel.
Except the river is not such a secret. It has appeared in the financial reports of Israel Chemicals, which has the concession to mine the minerals in the region and it has been investigated by many ecological researchers worldwide.
In fact the river is at the southern end of the Dead Sea on land, which is part of the Israel Chemicals concession. On page 7 of Israel Chemicals 2018 financial report, the company warned about the dangers of the river, which has been brought about by the evaporation pools it has created to mine potash, magnesium and other minerals from the Dead Sea.
"In recent years," the company writes in its 2018 financial report, " there has been a process of 'undermining' in the northern part of the Arava stream of which this is a continuation. On both sides of it, are the evaporation pools of the company's plant in the Dead Sea, and this is a reaction to the fall in the level of the sea. There is a risk that this phenomenon will endanger the stability of the company's evaporation pools. In the Sedom region where most of Israel Chemicals plants are located, there occasionally occurs flooding in the streams, although the company has insurance for this type of damage."
All this is part of the drying up of the entire Dead Sea. Israel dams the Jordan River at the southern end of the freshwater Lake Kinneret to preserve its water supplies, preventing the waters of the river from feeding the Dead Sea. Tributaries flowing into the Jordan used by Syria and Jordan further exacerbate the problem. As long ago as 1979, the Dead Sea split into two lakes - the larger northern lake and the smaller southern lake where Israel Chemicals evaporation pools only make the matter worse. The Dead Sea landscape - one of the world's natural treasures - has changed dramatically over the past 40 years and there is now restricted access to the sea and the dangerous opening up of sinkholes in the region.
In the wake of Channel 11's 'discovery' of the new river, discussion should not be about how the public was unaware that such a river exists but rather whether Israel Chemicals should be allowed to continue its intensive mining in the region and what are the overall environmental implications of the situation.
There are many ecological questions to be asked about Israel Chemicals salt harvesting operations and the chemical composition of the Dead Sea and whether the company is supervising, and monitoring the process and accurately accounting for what is happening. Israel Chemicals is also implementing infrastructure works in the region including building new roads with planning approval but it is unclear what the effect of all this is.
In the coming few years, The State will decide whether to extend Israel Chemicals mining concession and on what terms. Environmental considerations cannot be left out of the equation in discussions about the future of the Dead Sea and how one of the world's important natural treasures can be best preserved.
Channel 11 warned that although the pictures of this new discovery might tempt hikers to go look, it was dangerous to do so because the area has mines and the land is unstable. The environmental problems that the river reflects make the situation there even more dangerous.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 22, 2020
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020