Dead Sea – Israel, Jordan, Palestine

 

The Dead Sea is probably one of the best known water bodies on Earth. This hyper saline lake is located in a depression, which is part of the Jordan Rift Valley. With its lake shoreline lying about 426m below mean sea level (as of June 2012), it is the lowest place on Earth. The Dead Sea borders Israel, Jordan as well as the West Bank areas, which are under Palestinian control. Since there is no outlet, the water of the Dead Sea evaporates (approx. 8 Million m³ of water per annum) leaving salt behind. The average salt content of the Dead Sea is approximately 28 %.

 

In around 1976, the sea level fell below the elevation of an east west ridge, leading to the division of the Dead Sea into two parts, a deep northern basin and a much shallower southern basin. The sea level of the northern basin has continuously been decreasing since then and the southern basin would have been dried out by now if it wasn’t for the chemical abstraction industry pumping water into it from the northern basin. Curiously enough, the water level of the southern basin has been rising in recent years. This is due to the deposit of commercially unattractive salts at the bottom of the basin, leading to a rise in the water level.


Flora and Fauna in the catchment area

In the surrounding mountains, in the oases, marshes, and in temporary rivulets many plants and animals occur, among them leopards, the antelope species steenbok, and the griffon vulture. The Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea basin are among the most important migration routes for the Black and White Stork and many other bird species on their migration route from the breeding areas in Eastern Europe and the Middle East to Africa.

 

The landscape is characterised by a rock massif. Subtropical vegetation, however, is found in the oasis Ein Gedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea, where bananas, dates, and grapes are cultivated. Many bird species are native to this region, among others the Fan-tailed Raven (Corvus rhipidurus), the Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis), the Dead Sea Sparrow (Passer moabiticus), and the Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti).

The Dead Sea is drying up

The water level of the Dead Sea is decreasing at an alarming rate. In 1970, the water level was around 389 m below mean sea level and in 2012 426 m. Over the last three decades of the 20th century the Dead Sea has lost a third of its surface area and every year its water level declines by about 1.1 meters. This development has numerous negative effects:

 

Loss of estuarine ecosystems & creation of mudflats

With the receding shore of the Dead Sea, estuarine ecosystems have also begun to disappear. In the last 50 years over 300 km² of sea bed have been exposed and the majority of this area turned into saline mudflats.

 

Loss of endemic species

The decreased inflow of freshwater into the lake resulted in the fact that the salinity of the Dead Sea has increased to such a point that the few life-forms that live in the lake (hypersaline-tolerant bacteria) are at risk. The lake might, thus, live up to its name and truly become dead.

 

Decline in the groundwater table

Groundwater from adjacent aquifers flows seawards to replace the retreating seawater, which leads to a drop in surrounding groundwater levels.

 

Creation of sinkholes

Over 3,000 sinkholes have appeared around the periphery of the Dead Sea. These sinkholes are underground craters that are formed when subterranean salt layers are dissolved by fresh water following the receding Dead Sea water. They can collapse at any time without warning and have already destroyed buildings, roads, and agricultural lands. The sudden appearance of these sinkholes not only hinders development plans, but also poses a threat to any person wandering around in this area.

 

Decline in tourism

In recent years, there has been a decline in international tourist visits to the Dead Sea, which can be attributed to the decreasing sea water level. Tourism provides thousands of jobs in the Dead Sea basin, which are threatened by the severe environmental degradation of the lake.    

Causes for Degradation

The main reason for the declining sea water level of the Dead Sea is the decreasing inflow of freshwater into the lake, which has reduced from around 1,250 million cubic m/year in 1950 to approximately 260 million cubic m/year in 2010. The Dead Sea’s primary water source used to be the Lower Jordan River. Of the 1.3 billion cubic meters of water, which would naturally flow in the river, more than 96 % is diverted for agricultural and domestic uses by the neighbouring countries, leaving only a very small amount of water to reach the Dead Sea. In addition, water diversion and solar evaporation carried out by mineral extraction companies along the southern basin of the lake have contributed to the decline of the water level.

 

In addition to the drastic decline of the lake’s water level, domestic and industrial sewage continues to flow into the Dead Sea, damaging the lakes itself as well as the area’s unique ecosystem. In 2006, GNF declared the Dead Sea “Threatened Lake of the Year”, in order to raise awareness about its critical state.

 

Saving the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea can only be saved through joint efforts of the neighbouring countries. In 1994, GNF’s partner organisation Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) was formed by nature conservationists from Israel, Jordan, and Palestine. Besides promoting the sustainable and fair use of all shared water resources, the main focus of FoEME’s activity is to rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River and prevent the Dead Sea from drying up. In the past, GNF and FoEME already implemented a Jordan River Rehabilitation Project. Currently, GNF is involved in the development of the first ever transboundary master plan for the Lower Jordan River. Both projects aim at restoring the Lower Jordan River and, consequently, save the Dead Sea.

 

To save the Dead Sea, the governments of Israel and Jordan proposed to build a canal linking the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. Recently, the World Bank published a feasibility study of the project, concluding that it would be feasible from an engineering, environmental and economic standpoint. Further information on the Red Sea – Dead Sea conduit and its consequences can be found here.

Projects in situ

In February 2012, start of the project “Master Plan for the Lower Jordan River Valley”, supported by the European Commission in the frame of the SWIM Programme.

Photo Exhibition "Jordan River"

An exhibition about the Jordan River with detailed information and many coloured photos.

Further information ...

 Salt mining at the shore line of the southern basin of the Dead Sea.
 Pasturing at the shore lines.
 

Partner Organisations

EcoPeace Middle East (formerly FoEME – Friends of the Earth Middle East, Israel)

Mr. Gidon Bromberg (Israeli Director)

85 Nehalat Benyamin St.

Menachem Begin Road #90, PO Box 51293

Tel-Aviv, 67138, Israel

Phone: + 972 - 3 - 560 - 53 83

Fax: + 972 - 3 - 560 - 46 93

E-mail: info@foeme.org

Website: www.foeme.org

 

EcoPeace Middle East (formerly FoEME – Friends of the Earth Middle East, Jordan)

Mr. Munqeth Mehyar (Chairperson and Jordanian Director)

PO Box 840252

Amman, 11181, Jordan

Phone: + 962 - 6 - 58 66 60 2 / 3

Fax: + 962 - 6 - 58 66 60 4

E-mail: info@foeme.org

Website: www.foeme.org

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