Israel to invest nearly $120m to revive creeping Dead Sea shoreline
The Prime Minister’s Office announced on Sunday that it would pump approximately almost $120 million into Dead Sea area communities, over the next few years, in order to stave off a host of geological problems set to impact the flourishing tourism industry of the area.
The sea’s surface area has shrunk by a third since 1960 due to a heavy production of potash, used for making fertilizer which has accelerated the evaporation of water. In recent years, historic water flow has also been interrupted by the diversion of water from the Jordan River to the north for agricultural purposes, which contributes to the receding shoreline. Whilst cosmetic factory facilities in the area have also been cited as responsible.
The whole situation is further exacerbated by climate change as the area receives on average only 2 inches of rainfall a year.
Experts say water levels are falling one meter (three feet) a year, and warn that at best the Dead Sea could be reduced to a puddle and at worst, could dry out completely within 30 years.
The Prime Minister’s Office concluded, based on information received from the Geological Survey of Israel, that “there is no engineering or operational solution to the instability of the ground and the formation of sinkholes” in the short and medium term.
Today, there are more than 6,000 sinkholes on the western side of the Dead Sea, with new ones appearing daily. The holes have destroyed public beaches, the Ein Gedi Beach and Mineral Beach with nearly a loss of 40 places of employment.
“In light of this, government policy is based on life continuing alongside the sinkholes,” the statement said, adding that assistance should be provided to communities living there by improving employment opportunities.
A broad inter-ministerial team under the PMO’s guise has met a number of times over the past year with local community and council members aiming to seek out possible solution. The task force, according to the Times of Israel, also met with bodies such as the Nature and Parks Authority, the Society for the Protection of the Dead Sea, the Geological Survey, the Water Authority and the Israel Lands Authority.
The $120 million budget (NIS 417 million) will be used for repairs to Route 90 between the Almog Junction and Ein Gedi Nature Reserve with additional improvements to public transport. The funds will also be directed to tourism developments, research and planning for the Geological Survey as well as money given to local farmers to assist with their agricultural practices.
In partnership with the Housing Ministry, part of the budget will be invested into the building of homes for first-time buyers.
The sea's natural beauty and mineral-rich black mud provide a source of tourism revenue, however this has come under pressure in recent years.
"The Dead Sea has historical, biblical, natural, touristic, medical and industrial values that make it an invaluable cultural, environmental and economic treasure," said Avner Adin, a specialist in water science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Money will also be pumped into tourism projects such as the development of the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site, the creation of a Mitzpeh Shalem Kibbutz hotel and spa ans well as the expansion of Ein Gedi’s current accomodation facilities.
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