By: Zahra Khadraj
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
In the 1960s, the area of the Dead Sea exceeded 900 km² now it barely reaches 600 km². The length however was 90 km and reached 70 km now. And it had a width of 10-12 km. In the last thirty years, it has retreated within the Palestinian shores by one km. According to annual environmental monitoring, the level of the Dead Sea drops at a rate of 1 m from sea level. 30 years ago, it was about 370 meters below sea level, which is the lowest known point in the Jordan Valley, and now it is more than 400 meters below sea level.
The Dead Sea derives its industrial importance from the high concentration of calcium and potassium in its waters. Now it has become a problem that threatens it if the situation continues as it is.
Taking a decision with your eyes closed
In the eighties of the last century, it was noticed in the coastal areas the beginning of the emergence of groups of sink holes, there were only 3 holes on the western shores, but now their number exceeds 4000 holes, which portends an impending danger, meaning that a day may come when we won’t find the Dead Sea!
The problem began to appear after the water level in the Dead Sea decreased significantly, which led to the formation of torrents of fresh groundwater that migrated towards the bottom of the sea to compensate for the shortage, causing the melting of the lower salty rocky layers and withdrawing large amounts of salt with them, which led to drilling as the water level decreased, their number in the vicinity of the Dead Sea increased steadily.
The reasons behind the receding waters of the Dead Sea
The natural causes, especially the lack of rain and the high rates of evaporation as a result of high temperatures, play a role in the problem of the decline of the Dead Sea.
However, the non-natural causes resulting from human activities play an important and dangerous role in this problem and intensify and worsen it.
The water policies of the Jordan River Basin and Dead Sea countries are represented in seizing the sources that feed the river, as they contribute in about (80-83%) of the problem that the Israeli occupation causes most of it.
The extractive industries built on the Dead Sea, especially the Israeli ones, contribute in about (17-20%) of the problem due to pumping water to the Salinas to dry them and extract salts. Of them, Israel alone causes 58% of the problem, Jordan causes 28% of the problem, while Syria causes 12% and Lebanon causes 1% of the problem (A study by Ibrahim Al-Habib and Radwan Al-Kilani, 2007).
Since its inception, Israel has drained Lake Hula, seizing the waters of the Jordan River from Lake Tiberias, and diverting it to the national carrier line that supplies the coastal areas and the Negev settlements with the necessary water. And because of water shortage, it suffers from, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon established water projects on the Jordan River, which led to the arrival of very small amounts of water to the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea is nourished by several sources: the Jordan River and its tributaries, Jordanian valleys and springs, Palestinian valleys and springs, groundwater, and rain.
The amount of water incoming to it is currently estimated, according to a study prepared in 2006, at about 400 million m³, while it was 1750 million m³ before 1955. The Dead Sea loses water at an average of 700-750 million m³, as a result of evaporation, and 250-300 million m³, as a result of extractive industries, i.e. a total of 1000 m3. Note here that the water deficit reaches 600-650 million m³ annually between the quantities of incoming and lost water (A study by Ibrahim Al-Habib and Radwan Al-Kilani, 2007).
Fictional solutions to a complex reality
In 2005, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and the occupation government signed the Bahrain Channel Agreement, which looks forward to constructing huge water pipelines linking the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, in order to restore the level of the Dead Sea to its previous state before it reached the stage of drought, by supplying it with two billion cubic meters of water.
This project has faced huge environmental opposition due to the potential environmental risks it carries, including: a defect in the composition of the Dead Sea water, which is characterized by high rates and a unique composition of salts, and in any case of leakage from the pipes carrying water from the Red Sea to the Wadi Araba region where project will be established. This will cause pollution to the groundwater in the area.
The project is likely to cause negative effects that may result in the coral reefs and aquatic life in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea, in addition to the environmental imbalance in its marine environment in general. It may also lead to the formation of large water currents, which have devastating effects.
Geologists have also expressed their fears that pumping water will provoke the trench region and activate the tectonic movement along the Jordan crater, which may cause catastrophic earthquakes with terrible consequences.
Some considered this project a savior to the occupying state. It is somehow linked to its projects related to the expansion and deepening of the Jewish settlement presence in the Negev desert, thus attracting more Zionist settlers to it.
Is there any real solution to the problem?
The real solutions are those that take into consideration the preservation of the ecological balance of the Dead Sea, by rehabilitating the Jordan River, restoring its natural course to its former magnificence, stopping all ecologically destructive projects established by the occupation on its course in favor of settlement projects in the Negev and the Jordan Valley, and stopping all measures that were taken by Israel in the Yarmouk River and other branches that used to flow into the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Meaning that Israel should stop blocking the waters of Lake Tiberias in the Jordan River, as well as stopping the activities of Israeli factories that drain sea water.
Translated by: Rasha Abu Dayyeh