Saturday, May 21, 2005

For Dead Sea, a Slow Death

When the Ein Gedi Spa opened in 1986 to pamper visitors with massages, mud wraps and therapeutic swims, customers walked just a few steps from the main building to take their salty dip in the Dead Sea.

Nineteen years later, the water level has dropped so drastically that the shoreline is three-quarters of a mile away. A red tractor hauls customers to the spa's beach and back in covered wagons.

"The sea is just running out, and we keep running after it," said Boaz Ron, 44, manager of the resort. "In another 50 years, it could run out another kilometer," or more than half a mile.

It may sound redundant, but the Dead Sea, one of the world's cultural and ecological treasures, is dying. In the last 50 years, the water level has dropped more than 80 feet and the sea has shrunk by more than a third, largely because the Jordan River has gone dry. In the next two decades, the sea is expected to fall at least 60 more feet, and experts say nothing will stop it.

The decline has been particularly rapid since the 1970s, when the water began dropping three feet a year. That created a complex domino effect that is slowly destroying some of Israel's most cherished plant and wildlife reserves along the Dead Sea's shores, a key resting stop along the annual migration route for 500 million birds that fly between Europe and Africa. The receding waters have left huge mud flats with hundreds of sinkholes that threaten to collapse roads and buildings and have forced a development freeze on Israel's side of the sea, which lies on the border with Jordan.


READ Sam Vaknin's Article on Water Crisis, Water Shortage, Water Wars on the Progress Report

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