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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Action call over dying Dead Sea
By Martin Patience
BBC, in Ein Gedi, southern Israel

Satellite image of the Dead Sea (Science Photo Library
The surface area of the sea has shrunk by a third in 50 years
Standing close to a grey, concrete building enclosing a spa, Ein Gedi kibbutz member Merav Ayalon points at the brown mudflats a few metres away.

Twenty years ago the Dead Sea water would have lapped at her feet, she says. But now, glittering in the distance, the sea lies almost one km away from the spa.

"We are watching the sea vanishing," says Ms Ayalon. "I feel like the sea is a dying man calling out for help and there's nothing I can do."

In the last 50 years, the Dead Sea, the world's saltiest body of water and lowest point on earth, has seen its surface area shrink by a third and its depth drop by 25 meters.

The water that once flowed into the Dead Sea from the River Jordan has been diverted by Syria, Jordan, Israel for agricultural and hydro-electrical projects.

Environmentalists are now warning that drastic action has to be taken to avert an ecological disaster as the Dead Sea drops by a metre every year.

"It's a catastrophe," says Gideon Bromberg, the director of Friends of the Earth in Israel. There's nothing natural about the demise of the Dead Sea"

Thousands of sinkholes - where the land collapses in on itself - have appeared on the shore's coast threatening the infrastructure. The Ein Gedi kibbutz closed a camp site after a worker fell into a sinkhole.

Wildlife threatened

The wetland surrounding the Dead Sea also supports endangered species such as ibex, leopards and hyrax, sometimes called rock rabbits, and serves as an important resting and breeding site for millions of birds migrating between Europe and Africa each year.

Both Israel and Jordan offer farmers big subsidies to use water from the Jordan River for agricultural use, says Mr Bromberg, and this should stop to allow a greater flow into the Dead Sea.

"We're saying water is very scarce so why waste it on growing bananas," he says. "We should support our agricultural communities financially, but we also need to be guardians of the land. Tourism is a better investment."

At the Minerva resort, tourists sit on white deck chairs under parasols, while others cake themselves in mud or float on the Dead Sea. From round the world, many of the visitors expressed concern about the sea's shrinkage.

"It's shocking really," says Benjamin Harries, visiting from New York. "They shouldn't be able to get away with it. If there's anything they can do then the governments should do it."

Possible options

View of Ein Gedi resort
Much needed tourist money could dry up at Ein Gedi
One solution for replenishing the Dead Sea, is to build a 200-km canal to bring water from the Red Sea to the region. Water could be pumped to Jordan where it could be desalinated to produce fresh water for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The remaining water would then flow from the mountains down to the Dead Sea. But some experts think that the concerned governments will baulk at the price-tag of a potential project.

"I think we have much more urgent problems to spend our money on," says Dr Arie ben-Zvi, former director of the Israeli Hydrological Board.

But others strongly disagree. "Nature gave us a gift and we're ruining it," says Ms Ayalon. "I'm afraid that when my three nephews have grown up that the Dead Sea will only be a memory."

Jordan appeals to save Dead Sea
02 Jun 04 |  Middle East
River Jordan 'nearly running dry'
11 Mar 05 |  Middle East

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