The receding of the Dead Sea is an urgent environmental problem that directly affects Jordanian tourism industry

By Saeb Rawashdeh – Feb 12,2024

AMMAN — Revda Wardeh visits Jordan and the Dead Sea a few times a year with her Greek Cypriot husband. Running away from her hectic work at a brokerage company in Limassol, she chills and trills by hiking, riding, paragliding and camping.

When she began regularly visiting the Dead Sea, some twenty five years ago, the lake was much closer to the shore. Meanwhile, it became obvious that the water in the Dead Sea recedes more than a metre annually.

“It declined a lot and people are taking salt from the sea, which shouldn’t be allowed,” Wardeh said to The Jordan Times. She thinks the authorities should enforce regulations that will prevent tourists from taking salt from the area, and prohibit commercial enterprises to sell salt and mud.

“The area should be protected,” Wardeh said.

The receding of the Dead Sea is an urgent environmental problem that directly affects the Jordanian tourism industry.

“As far as I know, there are no plans now to stop the drop of the Dead Sea level. Also, the extraction of potash makes the problem even worse because the process relies on taking water from the Dead Sea and evaporating it,” Professor of Geology Nizar Abu Jaber, from The German Jordanian University, explained.

Unlike some experts who blame the climate change, Abu Jaber thinks that the main cause for the shrinking of the Dead Sea is the industrial development and the population increase. 

“Climate change has nothing to do with the decline of the Dead Sea,” he noted, adding that the Dead Sea is no exception as closed water bodies in arid regions fluctuate during a period of time. According to Abu Jaber, there are a few reasons for the implementation of a project to save the Dead Sea: Protecting the ground water in the adjacent aquifers, stopping the development of sinkholes, generating electricity and desalination of water.

“This is the natural process that goes on throughout the last 12,000 years, and the idea that the Dead Sea will completely dry up is utterly wrong,” Abu Jaber underlined.

The damming of the Lower Jordan River and Yarmouk decreased the surface water inflow of the Dead Sea to almost 10 per cent of its natural amount, noted Christian Siebert, a hydro-geologist from Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research.

“Along the eastern side, all major wadis are dammed; in fact, along that shore, there is no surface runoff that approaches the lake anymore. The abundant pumping of groundwater from the aquifers surrounding the Dead Sea declines the contribution of groundwater to the lake, either as surface springs or submarine,” Siebert said, adding that this process “is not irreversible”.

“Particularly if the Degania Dam and the Adessiya Weir would be opened, the situation would tremendously relax. However, then the water would be missing for irrigation in large parts of the Jordan Valley as well as in the north-western Jordan, where the water is highly demanded,” Siebert elaborated.

It does not look likely that the solution for the shrinking Dead Sea can be found in the opening of the dams since many small and large agricultural businesses depend on that water, Siebert highlighted, adding that “the conveyor is partly constructed, while its original dimension was dropped”.

Formation of sinkholes happens suddenly, “and the surface collapses and swallows everything above” he said. 

“That might be cars, roads, buildings…whatever,” Siebert noted, adding that sinkholes take place along western shore and near Ghor Haditha, in the south-eastern corner.

“The formation of a sinkhole cannot be prevented as it is an ongoing process of dilution of soluble rocks in the subsurface, forming cavities that eventually collapse,” Siebert elaborated.

“The Dead Sea receding water is a problem for the tourism and hospitality sector in Jordan,” a radio anchor Mona Naffa-Nazzal said. “There is nowhere in the world for tourism and local community to experience the largest natural spa in the world,” Naffa-Nazzal continues, adding that the Dead Sea waters is the only place in the region and in the world that will allow you the buoyant “floating experience” due to the rich salt infused waters, ten times saltier than the ocean.

“Tourists, medical patients and others come to the Dead Sea waters to float and many take the iconic photo with a newspaper or magazine in hand to prove that they floated at the lowest point on Earth,” she said.

“This photo will be lost with the loss of the famous floating experience,” Naffa-Nazzal underscored.