A few photos from this project can be seen in a recent article from the AP here.
“The Dead Sea is something which holds the rest of the ecosystem together,” explains Abdel Rahman Sultan, a park director for EcoPeace Middle East. EcoPeace Middle East has advocated for replenishing the Dead Sea by restoring the flow of the Jordan River, but so far, the only project underway is a massive canal project, running a pipeline from Jordan’s Red Sea port at Aqaba to the Dead Sea.
The canal project has been sharply criticized for being neither environmentally nor financially sustainable. A joint project between Israel and Jordan, underwater pumping stations in the Gulf of Aqaba will generate energy and fresh water through desalination. The majority of the energy and fresh water will go to Israel, with the leftover brine to be pumped into the canal to the Dead Sea. Even if significant energy and drinking water were to be produced and supplied to Jordan, the cost of production means that few Jordanians could afford to pay for it, even with heavy government subsidies in place.
From the environmental side, there are fears that constructing the pumping stations will damage the coral reefs in the Red Sea off the coast of Aqaba. In transporting the brine water to the Dead Sea via pipeline - in a country with up to 40 to 50 percent water losses in municipal water networks - there are concerns about leaks and breakages that could pollute underground water reserves or let mineral compounds into the water, which would eventually end up in the Dead Sea. Finally, the Dead Sea - devoid of bacterial or fungal life due to its salt content - could experience a drastic change in chemical composition due to the bacteria present in the Red Sea.
All of this so far is done without taking into account the effects of climate change. Jordan and the eastern Mediterranean region are expected to experience higher temperatures, decreased rainfall, and increased evaporation. Assuming that “normal” conditions prevail - meaning no more waves of refugees due to war or natural disasters - by 2040, the population will increase to 11 to 22 million people. In this region, an overall temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius reduces the annual water yield by 10 to 17 percent. A 5 percent drop in precipitation could mean a 45 to 60 percent reduction in water yield.
With tensions high between Jordan and Israel after a Jordanian citizen was shot and killed at the Israeli embassy in Amman in July 2017, projects for water sharing have been put on hold.
Heavy industrial water pumping, evaporation pools, inefficient irrigation practices, and the loss of the Jordan River, have made the Dead Sea evaporate at one of the highest rates in the world. As the underground water tables drop, the soil and salt layers are dissolved, creating a void. When the surface becomes too weak, it collapses, swallowing up chunks of land and sea, like hundreds of pockmarks all along the shore.
Some of the smaller pits are filled again with liquid - it can hardly be called water, being fluorescent green and orange in color, smelling sharply of sulfur. In the larger sinkholes that swallow up entire fields, roads and houses, the rubble looks more like the pulverized remnants of shelling rather than nature taking its course.
Two generations ago, the Jordan River fed this valley with 1.3 billion cubic meters of water per year; now it is closer to 30 million. At the same time, water demand to support agriculture in the valley has grown from 15,000 hectares in the 1960s to 37,000 in 2003, and in the Badia desert region it has grown from virtually zero in the 1970s to 17,000 hectares in 2003.
The South Ghor municipality near the Dead Sea is home to some 40,000 people, historically depending on agriculture to earn their living.
After centuries of working the land by the Dead Sea, they are losing their means of income. In Ghor Safi, the effects of climate change, poverty, and mining industries are thrown into relief when observing this community. A few kilometers up the highway is the Arab Potash Company, one of the mineral mining plants responsible for pumping most of the underground water reserves in the region. The community maintains a complicated, increasingly tense relationship with the industrial plants. In a country with few natural resources, most say that they understand the need for industry and that they don’t mind having it in their backyards. But the other side is that while industry has grown, it has made agriculture more expensive and daily life more difficult.