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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Dead Sea 'to disappear by 2050'
Israeli tourists pose for a photo on the shore of the Dead Sea
About a third of the Dead Sea has already been lost
By Caroline Hawley in Amman

Environmentalists in Jordan are warning that the Dead Sea will disappear by the year 2050 if its level continues to drop at the current rate.

Friends of the Earth (Middle East) has stepped up a campaign entitled "Let the Dead Sea Live" to try to save the world's saltiest body of water.

It's not only that the water level is going down. The ecosystem that used to exist around the Dead Sea is also suffering.

Sultan Abdul Rahman
Friends of the Earth
The group is running a photo competition to draw attention to the threat facing the lake, which is home to several rare species of plant and wildlife.

The Dead Sea - the salty lake at the lowest point on Earth - is unique.

You can float in it, it is renowned for its health-giving properties and on both its Israeli and Jordanian sides, it's a major tourist draw.

But environmentalists claim that the Dead Sea is now "dying" as the water that used to feed it is diverted for industry, agriculture and domestic use in both Israel and Jordan.

Dead Sea
The saltiest body of water in the world
Sultan Abdul Rahman of Friends of the Earth (Middle East) says the impact is disastrous.

"It's not only that the water level is going down - the ecosystem that used to exist around the Dead Sea is also suffering a lot.

"The fresh water that used to go to the sea is pumped to cities like Amman and that means that no more water is flowing downstream to the Dead Sea to support the wildlife along the Jordan River and its wadis and springs," Mr Abdul Rahman said.

He said the lake's water level was now dropping by over a metre a year, endangering indigenous plants and birds.

Plea for help

Friends of the Earth (Middle East) wants to register the Dead Sea for protection with the UN, and set up a regional management plan for the lake.

But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hampering efforts to co-ordinate a response to the Dead Sea's crisis.

Jordan's Water Minister, Hazim el-Naser, said the only solution was to pump water into it from the Red Sea - a multi-billion dollar project.

Dead Sea bathers
The lake's unique properties are a magnet for bathers
"Simply, this money is not available and there's a need for the international community to help these countries to build and implement this project which, in the future, would be an important element for regional co-operation and peace in this area," Mr El-Naser said.

But it is a long-term project with little prospect of getting off the ground in the current political climate.

"The prerequisite for implementing this project is to have good co-operation between the parties before starting such a project. I think it's not the right time for it," said Mr El-Naser.

So, with the region in the grip of a serious drought, the Dead Sea's shore will continue to recede.

And Friends of the Earth is warning that if things continue as they are at the moment, in less than 50 years, the Dead Sea will be gone for good.

See also:

14 Jul 99 | Middle East
Dead Sea in danger
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