Fearing financial limitations, factories put spoke in wheel of national program that will address major ecological damage caused to Dead Sea

Yael Darel
Published: 01.16.11

The Dead Sea has turned into the site of major ecological concern, but the program to restore the area has been bumped off the National Council for Planning and Construction’s agenda repeatedly in recent months – apparently due to pressure from factories active in the area.

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The national program to rehabilitate and preserve the Dead Sea aims to address several issues, including the lowering water level in the northern basin, the creation of sinkholes and the dwindling resources. The program has been the subject of discussion at the National Council for Planning and Construction and local authorities since 2008, but was blocked by factories who fear that it will hinder their finances.

According to a transcript of the last discussion held at the council on the subject, a representative of the factory owners, Toby Shor, stated that the plan greatly limits the activity of the businesses in the area. For example, the factories will be prevented from drawing salt from the streams adjacent to the Dead Sea, harming the factories’ abilities to expand.

‘Factories will not help restore damage’
Shor also announced that the factory owners oppose the clause in the plan which asserts that factories will only be allowed to continue their activity on the condition that they contribute to the restoration of the harmed sites. Moreover, they oppose the clause that asserts that continued development in a certain zone of the sea will be done only after considering the environmental effect. It appears that the factories are heavily active in this particular zone, and limiting this activity will harm the industry.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan has demanded the National Council for Planning and Construction to stop dragging their feet and return the plan to the agenda, while environmental organization have made it clear that further delay can result in catastrophic damage.

“While the Interior Ministry is postponing the discussion of the policy over and over, the planning agencies are promoting the Dead Sea factories’ development programs, which disregard significant principles,” said Naama Heller, the director of the legal department at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense. Heller noted that the factories are responsible for 20% of the lowered Dead Sea level and its side effects – like the sinkholes and damage to the resources.

“The Dead Sea factories do not oppose the program,” a statement issued by industry officials read. “However, we ask the policy to allow a continued function of the factories while securing the variety of interests in the area, including the industry, tourism and environmental.”

Officials from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said that the factories’ interest should not be considered over the long term environmental impact. They noted that the Dead Sea is currently competing for a spot on the seven wonders of the natural world list, and that the delay in approving the restoration program is a major setback.

Tourism Ministry officials, who called to postpone the discussion of the program during the January 4 meeting of the National Council for Planning and Construction, explained that a government enterprise was assigned to find a solution to the rising water levels in the southern Dead Sea basin, and that it is better to wait for the enterprise’s conclusion in order to devise a more comprehensive restoration plan.