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The Dead Sea - A Sea that is Sadly "Living" up to its Name

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The Dead Sea - A Sea That Is Sadly

A couple of weeks ago, the news headlines mentioned lightly the new "Israel, Arabs agreement to save Dead Sea:"

Jordan , Israel and the Palestinian Authority said they had agreed terms for a feasibility study on transferring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, to save the world's lowest sea from vanishing.

The two-year study, costing 15 million dollars, will investigate the social and environmental impact of conveying large quantities of water through a 200-kilometer (120-mile) conduit between the two seas.

Following the feasibility study, the project will take around five years to complete. But the project in its second phase involves building power generation and water desalination plants to supply electricity and fresh water to Jordan, Israel and the Palestine.

Ok, so what's in it? If I'm not mistaken, this means the following:

1. If the feasibility study starts now, that is June 2005, it will finish June 2007.
2. If the feasibility study say go, and being optimistic the project starts by Jan 2008.
3. Trusting that funds will not be disturbed like the 'Disi Project Funds' (Arabic), phase one should be ready by 2013.
4. No news when phase two is suppose to finish!

The Wadi Arabah ProjectWill the Dead Sea "live" until then?

Well, when the Ein Gedi Spa opened in 1986 to pamper visitors with massages, mud wraps and therapeutic swims, customers walked just a few steps from the main building to take their salty dip in the Dead Sea. Nineteen years later, the water level has dropped so drastically that the shoreline is three-quarters of a mile away. A red tractor hauls customers to the spa's beach and back in covered wagons. See full article by John Ward Anderson, in Washington Post Foreign Service.

The water level of the Dead Sea has declined over 21 m from 1930 to 1997, and alone 12 m in the last 20 years. In less than a century the water level has fallen by approximately 25 m. In the past few years, the water level fell at a rate of 80-100 cm per year, with the average rate of fall accelerating in recent years. As a result, the Dead Sea surface area has shrunk by about 30% in the last 20 years.[source]

At the current rate, the more shallow southern part of the sea will be gone less than 50 years.

Several projects have been proposed over the years to save the Dead Sea, and the one that now seems the most likely to be carried out is that of a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. This plan is not new. Already in the 19th century, when the actual level of the Dead Sea was first measured, plans were developed to use the height difference to create a hydroelectric power plant. Most plans focused on a canal from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea.

Even though these plans to save the Dead Sea have been well received by many, there are also drawbacks. What will happen if water from the Dead Sea and from the Red Sea are mixed? There are studies that suggest that the Dead Sea would turn white, or even pink. Withdrawing large bodies of water from the Gulf of Aqaba might seriously upset and possibly destroy its already fragile ecosystem. Ecological investigations have only just begun.

And what about the archaeology of the region? One aspect that has received virtually no attention so far is the impact that the construction of a pipeline, let alone a canal, would have on the Wadi Arabah and especially the hill country between the bottom and the eastern plateau, which is an area with a rich history covering every period from Palaeolithic to late Islamic. Hundreds of sites have been found here in a number of surveys, and since the area has still only been partly surveyed, hundreds of sites are still waiting to be discovered. Therefore, regardless of what route the pipeline/canal will take, it is bound to affect tens, maybe hundreds of archaeological sites, many of which have only been recorded in surveys, but never extensively investigated.

Shrinking Sea

Even if the project takes place, there is maybe a 20- to 30-year lifetime for this project because that is how long it will take for the Dead Sea to regain its natural level. On the other hand, when you consider the vast capital costs, the economic and political sense is not clear. Also, because the desalinated water will need to be pumped long distances and to a high altitude to get where it is needed, the cost of the water will be very high.

Countries with less than 500 cubic metres of water per year are described as suffering from scarcity of water. The UK has around 1,500 cubic metres per person, Israel 340, Jordan 140, and the Palestinian Authority only 70.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea canal is expected to generate 850 million cubic metres of drinkable water, almost the existing annual water use of Jordan, which would be divided between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The Role of Scenarios in the Dead Sea Project:

The role of scenarios is to create a number of realistic scenarios for possible futures of the Dead Sea Basin. These scenarios will reflect trajectories or future directions that differ from one another and therefore offer leaders and policy makers in the region the opportunity to test present strategies for water management and perhaps develop new ones. The time frame of the scenarios is from 2005 to 2025. Three driving forces were assumed to have an order of magnitude impacts on the system. These were:

1. The level of Cooperation between the three riparian countries;

2. The role agriculture will play in the future; and

3. The type of investment in water related projects

The following are brief summaries of the realistic scenarios. It is worth mentioning here that the scenarios were the result of synthesis and deliberations first amongst the project partners and second of information collected in the Focus group Meetings and from participation in relevant conferences and workshops.

Scenario I Business as Usual

The Middle East in 2025 is reminiscent of the present day situation. This is because after 20 years, very little has changed. The levels of cooperation between Israelis and the Palestinians remains low, plagued by cycles of violence followed by periods of quiet but not real peace. The lack of progress between Israel and the Palestinians affects the levels of cooperation between Jordanians and Israelis as well. Jordan’s relationship with Israel remains low key and secretive, while Jordan’s relationship with the Palestinians is cold and distrustful. The lack of cooperation creates short-term thinking on all sides. Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians compete for water resources, through over pumping and ill-conceived water projects. Agriculture continues to be protected and receive water at below market prices compounding water stress in the region. The economies in the area remain sluggish, though the world economy is bouncing back after years of slow growth. The level of the Dead Sea is back on the rise, however, the environmental consequences of the ”Red-Dead Conduit” have yet to be fully digested. The gypsum precipitation caused by the mixing of sulfate rich Red Sea water with the calcium rich Dead Sea water has whitened the surface of the Dead Sea and is having an impact on the climate in the basin. The Sea of Galilee continues to be endangered by over pumping and the Jordan River is nothing more than an open sewage canal.

Scenario II A Water Stressed Out Middle East

While a Water Stressed Out Middle East may look similar to Scenario I, this scenario describes a Middle East in the year 2025 that is ready to explode. Cooperation remains low as in the previous scenario, and the role of agriculture remains central, however, without the large addition of desalinated water from the ”Red-Dead Conduit”, water stress in the region is reaching unsustainable levels. Something has to give way. Israel, Jordan, and Palestine seem to be heading for an outright conflict over water in the region. The countries must either increase the level of cooperation allowing for a more efficient and equitable use of the water resources or vastly reduce the role of agriculture in the region in order to avoid the oncoming conflict. The level of the Dead Sea is at an all time low, and still sinking. Large ecological systems around the shores of the Dead Sea have been destroyed. The continued violence in the Middle East, combined with sinkholes and a quickly receding shoreline, has decimated tourism in the area. A lack of water for irrigation has turned the farming villages on the Israeli and Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea into ghost towns. Jericho, the oldest city in the world, has the lowest per capita water consumption in the in the world.

Scenario III A Low Impact Middle East

A Low Impact Middle East would require a break from present trends. In order to reach sustainability by the year 2025, the leadership in the Middle East, as well as the United States, found a way to break the cycle of violence, which had plagued the area for the last 100 years. New levels of cooperation enabled the countries in the region to work together to find solutions to water stress and environmental problems. The countries looked for low impact solutions in order to create new water supplies while at the same time recognizing the need to limit agriculture to a more sustainable dimension. Low impact water systems such as rainwater harvesting, wastewater recycling, and efficient water delivery systems created new water without major adverse environmental effects. It was necessary to build a large number of desalination plants in order to provide water to the growing population. However, the decreased size of irrigated agriculture, climate appropriate crops, and the improvement of irrigation systems in the region meant that treated wastewater could serve as the major source for water for farming. The level of the Dead Sea is slowly rising. The decrease in the use of fresh water from the Sea of Galilee for Israel and Jordan has allowed the Jordan River to once again flow with clean water into the Dead Sea. Ecological systems that had been suffering for years in the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea are slowly recovering. Tourism in the area is flourishing, providing a boost to the economies of all three nations. Ten years ago, in the year 2015, the leadership in Israel, Palestine, and the United States brokered a Geneva-like peace agreement entailing a total Israeli withdrawal to the recognized borders along the ”Green Line” (’67 Armistice Line) except for certain areas for which the Palestinians received one to one land compensation. Israeli settlements in the West Bank were evacuated and handed over intact to the new Palestinian state as a goodwill gesture from Israel. A number of Palestinian refugees returned to the state of Palestine. Jerusalem is a divided city with the Old City of Jerusalem under joint Palestinian/Israeli sovereignty. At the White House agreement signing ceremony, the United States President expressed satisfaction at being able to complete the work of previous administrations in the long struggle for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

Scenario IV A Supply Managed Middle East

By the year 2025, the riparian nations around the Dead Sea have begun to feel the fruits of the peace agreement reached 10 years earlier. Israel, Palestine, and Jordan are all three experiencing better than average growth rates. With strong economies, stable political environments, a warm climate, and a proximity to Europe, the area has become attractive to international investors. Tourism and agriculture are the two main destinations of international capital. The Dead Sea Basin has become a focus for building large hotels and resorts aimed at the European market while all three nations are supplying more and more fresh fruits and vegetables to European markets. Water is the key to continued economic progress in the region and so, large water projects are a priority for both government and private investment. The “Peace” Conduit (Red-Dead Conduit) is providing 800 MCM of water annually to the area but with the rapid development of the region, the need for water continues to grow. Israel and Palestine are working together to increase their water supplies through large desalination projects of seawater and brackish water, dams in every available Wadi and wastewater recycling. Rapid economic growth, large water projects, and the development of large tracts of land for agriculture are changing the face of the region. Pristine deserts, nature reserves, mountain Wadis, and the Dead Sea itself are being transformed beyond recognition. While the benefits of peace and development are clear, many are disturbed by the loss of much of the natural beauty and ecological systems. [Source]

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