Monday, July 12, 1999 Published at 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
World: Middle East
Dead Sea in danger
Tourists flock from all over the world to bath in the magical waters
By Jerusalem Correspondent Hilary Andersson
The Dead Sea, the saltiest body of water on earth and a glistening natural treasure, is shrinking dramatically due to human decisions to siphon off its waters.
Just 40 years ago its stretched 80 kilometres in length.
The Ein Gedi Spa, set in a magical spot at the foot of high cliffs which stretch from the Dead Sea up to the Judaean Desert, was on the edge of the sea just 15 years ago.
British explorers in 1917 made a mark on the stone which originally lay at the water's edge.
That marker is now more than 15 metres up a cliff and a road runs between the cliff and the new shoreline.
One of the main reasons for the sea's shrinkage is the diversion of water.
Ninety percent of the waters that flow from the Jordan River, which traditionally supplies the Dead Sea, is diverted for drinking and agriculture in Israel and Jordan.
Most Israeli agricultural produce is exported. Environmentalists argue that, if the water was not diverted and the Dead Sea was left to flourish, tourism would grow, making up revenues lost from agriculture.
Industrial activities also contribute to the Dead Sea's problems. Massive evaporation pools vaporise the water in order to extract minerals, which are used for industrial activities and for making beauty products. The evaporation pools account for a quarter of the Dead Sea's shrinkage.
Currently, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the Dead Sea every year to float on its waters - so salty that even a well-built man can float unaided, reading a newspaper comfortably while lying on his back.
Tourists smother themselves in the black mud, blissfully unaware of the Dead Sea's troubles.
It can still be saved - but time is running out.
"We are approaching a time when the ecological habitat which the unique fauna and flora rely on will vanish and that's why its a critical moment to save the Dead Sea", said Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East.