Jordan’s water crisis could affect Dead Sea

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Mabey Bedouin families buried near the Dead Sea in Jordan. The Dead Sea could soon look vastly different. Tourists are piling into it, drawn by the beauty of…

Jordan's water crisis could affect Dead Sea

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Mabey Bedouin families buried near the Dead Sea in Jordan.

The Dead Sea could soon look vastly different.

Tourists are piling into it, drawn by the beauty of the desert landscape and the luscious waters.

But its share of the tourist market is at risk from climate change.

The government in Jordan, which is battling drought and desertification, is working to make sure the Dead Sea is preserved.

“We are taking action to maintain our national heritage, by working with the University of Jordan and the University of Texas to map the Dead Sea,” spokesman Hassan bin Kaal told the BBC.

Water in the Golan Heights, an area that is part of Israel, along with Lebanon and Syria, will be piped down to the Dead Sea. The scheme is planned to be completed by 2025.

This is down to drought, which Jordan suffered for three years, a man-made disaster exacerbated by the Syrian Civil War.

The Interior Ministry hopes that the water from the area will stay in the sea, rather than flow back across the border to Syria or Lebanon.

The country’s leading conservationist, Tayseer Khadduri, called this “a new chapter in the Dead Sea’s history”.

What can we do about the water?

The quantities of water were intentionally reduced during a specific period to prevent a third of the Dead Sea’s water going to Damascus, which faces water shortages.

Engineers have tested water from the Golan Heights – and the University of Texas has tested water from a different location in the Dead Sea.

Both analyses used the same model to predict how the Dead Sea might look 10 years into the future.

“The total volume of the Dead Sea [could fall] as much as 31bn cubic metres, one of the largest receding lakes in the world,” Dr Khadduri told the BBC.

“But, there is a chance that the lake might even rise.”

Dr Khadduri says another model predicts the water loss of the Dead Sea to be gradual, but through a process that won’t happen immediately, and will take place over half a century.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption A Palestinian man braves the capital’s notoriously hot summers to visit the Jordan River

Droughts are possible every three to seven years, as sea levels rise by about three metres in that time, but just a few years, says Dr Khadduri.

Climate change, a host of additional projects like the one to tap the Golan Heights water, and changes in the population have all contributed to this loss.

He told the BBC a gradual decline in the size of the Dead Sea is necessary to preserve its regional ecosystem, for future generations of Palestinians and Jordanians.

And while it’s unknown how long such an attempt will take to recover the Dead Sea’s waters, Dr Khadduri told the BBC it is likely to take between 150 and 200 years.

It is estimated that about 20% of the Dead Sea’s current surface will vanish over the next 100 years.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Israelis smile before passing beneath the East Jerusalem city wall to visit the Dead Sea

The ministry is concerned about the effect the loss of the water will have on the ecosystem of the Dead Sea, and the job it will do to conserve it.

For example, its massive deltas, which have branches as long as many mountains, can still be reduced to islands.

“We are not trying to get rid of the Dead Sea, because the water will come back, but we are protecting it in a different way,” Dr Khadduri says.

Image copyright EPA Image caption The Dead Sea is a popular spot for scuba divers

“The biggest challenge will be ensuring that the wind [hesitant or inland] won’t blow it to Israel, and that water will be re-sent to it [from the Israeli side] instead,” he adds.

For the Middle East Climate Change Institute, which has worked with the Jordanian government to find the best ways to safeguard the Dead Sea, this is nothing short of monumental.

“The loss of the Dead Sea would certainly be to a large extent associated with the loss of one of the regions’ main tourism draws, be it now or later,” said its director Wael Abrahim.

A study commissioned by the Ministry of Interior and carried out by the research institute estimates the tourism sector has lost about $800m (£590m) since the beginning of 2015.

“The tourist sector will pick up and will recover,” he says.

“A number of studies will be done, and the results will speak for themselves. The Dead Sea needs saving.”

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