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Sustainable Water Hopes for the Dead Sea

Aug 28, 2008
One you glance over the numbers, you realise that it doesn't take a mathematician to work out that the Dead Sea is under a severe amount of stress at the moment. The River Jordan, the sea's main tributary, has had 95% of its flow diverted for the sake of agriculture and other domestic uses. Mining, specifically for potash and magnesium chloride, is also removing water to the tune of about 150 million cubic meters every year. In addition, worldwide water withdrawals have increased six fold, which is approximately double the rate of worldwide population growth, and the struggle between population growth and the availability of water is expected to be most desperate in generally arid areas, such as Israel and Jordan, the countries that border the Dead Sea.

The water in the Dead Sea is disappearing as combinations of all these pressures exert themselves upon the water mass. Year on year the overall water level drops by one meter, and in the last thirty years the sea has shrunk to about two-thirds its 1970's size. This poses a serious threat to both human activity in the area, and also to the flora and fauna of the oases that comprise the Dead Sea's matchless ecosystem. The rate of water depletion is pushing the shoreline away from established population centres and creating sink holes. Sink holes destroy land, as deep freshwater effectively undercuts the layers of subsurface salt above causing them to collapse and posing threats to infrastructure and agriculture in the areas.

In an effort to halt the sea's fading away there is a planned project to engineer a pipeline that stretches from the Red Sea in the south up to the Dead Sea in the north. The World Bank is expected to help financially on this project, which is expected to cost between $800 million and $15 billion, depending on your sources, and the organisation is currently conducting a $14 million study into the feasibility of the source.

In a part of the world hardly characterised by multilateral accord the project is being proposed by Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The pipeline will stretch 320 kilometres from the Gulf of Aqaba in the south in order to help replenish the water levels of the Dead Sea, in addition to providing desalinated water for arid Jordan. There are also plans to utilise hydroelectric power into the scheme, which will take the form of either a canal or a pipeline.

There has been intense criticism of the scheme so far, as environmentalists and water experts warn that the mixing of water from the Red Sea - which is rich in sulphate - with water from the calcium rich Dead Sea will cause new algae growth in the sea. There are also fears that the World Bank's reports on the scheme's feasibility and environmental impact might be tainted by the fact that the pipeline would be such an unusual instance of mutual cooperation in the region, and therefore allow it to go ahead under the guise of some sort of peace project rather than because it is the best thing for all parties involved.
About the Author
Martin Gavin writes for ecoswitch
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