The Dying of the Dead Sea
Smithsonian, October, 2005
When walking along the Dead Sea Coast these days one has to be very careful lest one is swallowed up by a sink hole. As it’s waters recede gaping pits are claiming portions of roads, date fields and buildings along the water’s edge. The Dead Sea is shrinking and so are the aquifers along the perimeter of the lake. As the fresh water diffuses into the salt deposits underground, the earth is dissolved and collapses. More than 100 sinkholes exist today, causing this to be called an environmental catastrophe. Spas and resorts built along the coast line 20 years ago now sit marooned, far from the water. One must take a trolley car, lengthened each year, in order to get there.
Besides natural evaporation, many factors contribute to the loss of water. On the lakes south side, private companies pump water into holding ponds where valuable salts and minerals are extracted. Fresh water springs which used to feed the Sea are diverted by kibbutzim and bottled for popular brands of mineral water. Other feeder springs are used to irrigate nearby grounds and botanical gardens. These and other means of cutting off the seas natural water supply are increasing with development in the area.
During the past several years organizations aimed at preventing further destruction of the sea, have lobbied Israeli, Jordanian and the Palestinian Authority to nominate the Dead Sea as a United Nations World Heritage Site.
This would allow for the creation of environmental protection directives and prohibit further development. In addition, plans have been proposed conservation plans for household water use and regulations on how much water can be taken out of the springs. They are also encouraging ferments to plant crops that require less water.
These efforts have not been easy and sometimes have been downright dangerous. During recent Palestinian uprisings, getting parties to even agree to meet was often impossible and put participants in harms way as Islamic militants have opposed any and all such joint efforts.
Yet time is running out. One of the fanciest resort hotels, built on the North Side of the sea has been abandoned, now nothing more than a pile of rubble. Lest efforts are increased and effective plans put into place to stem to receding waters, this will unfortunately be a harbinger of things to come.