The Dead Sea is on its way to being truly dead, scientists say. Sea levels are dropping more than three feet yearly due to evaporation, mineral extraction and minimal water intake.
The great salt lake, located between Israel, Jordan and Palestine, is vanishing from the shores of all three countries, an environmental organization EcoPeace Middle East reports. The Dead Sea, which is really a lake, is 15 million years old and is known for its high salt content that allows people to float on it without even trying. It drains the watershed of the Jordan River, which has been providing less and less water in recent years, PBS reports.
Adbul Alhay Alhwemen, a Jordanian farmer, describes,
When I was a child, the Dead Sea used to wash the coast a few yards from our field. Now, it lies far – over a mile away. In 20 years, no one will know there was something called the Dead Sea here.
Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli head of Friends of the Earth Middle East environmental organization, says, “Half of the demise of the Dead Sea is caused by the Jordan River no longer flowing and the diversion of waters that used to run along Jordan to the Dead Sea from the Yarmouk River.”
EcoPeace says water inflow has already decreased to an alarming 5% of the original volume, and the sea has lost a third of its surface area.
Minerals in the Dead Sea’s waters, long believed and praised for their therapeutic properties, are often used as ingredients in cosmetics, body-care and other products, CNN reports. This has led to large-scale extraction projects that have further lowered sea levels.
Thousands of tourists flock to the Dead Sea yearly to take advantage of its healing properties, or just to float on its surface. EcoPeace says this, coupled with the tourism industry that caters to the whole idea, contribute to the problem. “Additional construction of water parks, shopping malls and urban facilities for the new influx of employees will all place further pressures on the land and water resources,” the organization says. “Untreated sewage into the Dead Sea from these surrounding areas are projected to increase as well.”
Efforts are now being made to address the problem. Israel and Jordan signed a $900 million agreement last year to build a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Both countries would benefit by using the canal as an alternative water supply that would pump water into the Dead Sea.
Some environmental activists think it would be better to tackle the source of the problem, as in the Jordan River. Youval Arbel, deputy director of the Israeli branch of Friends of the Earth, says better waste management practices, more efficient irrigation systems and recycling wastewater would do a lot more to allow the river waters to follow their natural path to the sea.