11/25/2009, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST
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Dead Sea dying, drained by water exploitation and political crises

The vital water resource destined to dry up by 2050. Sea level decreases by one meter a year, the coast has lost more than a kilometre. The Jordan River, diverted at several points, does not guarantee a renewed supply. Scholars ponder option of channelling water from the Red Sea, for the environmentalists it would mean certain death.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Dead Sea risks becoming a lifeless pond.   The political crisis in the Middle East and the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict are blocking the implementation of concrete measures to save the fragile eco-system of the smallest and saltiest waters of the earth.

Sea levels have decreased by one meter per year. The governments of Jordan, Israel and Palestine have so far not reached an agreement to reverse this course and the shoreline, in places, has receded more than a kilometre. Scientists and experts agree: If urgent - and common - measures are not implemented the tourist resort celebrated for the beneficial effects of its minerals, is bound to dry up by 2050.

The warmer climate has accelerated the process of evaporation and the water of the Jordan River no longer sufficient to maintain a constant sea level. Today the Jordan River has been reduced to little more than a creek, following a deterioration process that began in the '60s. Israel, Jordan and Syria have begun to divert the river, exploiting 95% of its capacity for drinking water and irrigation agriculture and industry. Tel Aviv alone consumes about 60% of its water, with dramatic results for the Dead Sea.

Compounding the problem, along with the growing drought, are the industrial and tourist activities taking place along its shores. Jordan and Israel have built factories that have led to the evaporation of  water, from which they extract minerals to produce phosphate. Five-star hotels have mushroomed along the coast, besieged by tourists for mud baths, spa and beauty treatments.

Numbers testify to the seriousness of the problem: today the sea is 67 km long and 18 wide. Back in the '60s the water level was 395 meters below the global sea level and the progressive evaporation has further lowered the surface to 422 meters.

The World Bank has launched a two-year study on the project that aims to convey - through a pipe - water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. In 2005, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority reached an agreement in principle for its implementation: it would guarantee two billion cubic meters of water per year, a steady supply of water to the Dead Sea to be used for the production of electricity .

The project, however, is criticized by environmental groups, who say introducing water from the Red Sea would lead to a mutation of the fragile ecosystem of the Dead Sea, and determine its’ certain "death".

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