The world around us is changing and for worse. The shifting landscape — primarily triggered by human-induced climate change and other anthropogenic factors — has opened up a pandora’s box not only for environmentalists but also for the local population who depend on the environment and its ecosystem for their survival and livelihood. One of such radical changes has been underway in the Dead Sea and its surrounding area. Shrinking at the rate of 1 meter per year, this geological wonder of our planet has become a testimony to the ecological catastrophe which has become more pronounced in recent years.
The Dead Sea, an iconic salt lake with therapeutic properties, bordered by Israel, Jordan and West Bank, has had a rich history and was once a melting pot of several civilizations and religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The tourists loved floating in the hypersaline water and treating their skin with mineral-rich mud of this lake which sits at the lowest point on land. About a fifty years ago, the lake stretched over an area of 1000 square kilometres. However, the rate at which it has been shrinking is alarming and its area today has been confined to just 600 square kilometres. This does not augur well for the already water-stressed region of Middle East. The shrinking has been triggered by rapid evaporation of water from the Dead Sea and a lack of fresh supply of incoming water from the River Jordan into the Dead Sea. The region has seen a diversion of its natural water resources for farming and domestic purposes. Further, as far as 30 thirty per cent of this deterioration is due to mining operations in the region.
The receding water of the Dead Sea has left behind swathes of land which now remains pockmarked with thousands of sinkholes. These sinkholes started to appear as a result of freshwater — from the rain and water from the flashfloods — dissolving the salt deposits underground which began collapsing and creating the enormous pits or sinkholes. As per an estimate, there are now more than 6000 Dead Sea sinkholes and some which are as big as the size of a basketball court and run as deep as a two-storey building! The rapidly growing number of these sinkholes has been wreaking havoc on the date palms which once flourishingly lined the coast along the Dead Sea. Fearing the sudden collapse of the land beneath their feet, the workers who tended these trees have long gone and now the trees remain lifeless under the scorching sun. This fascinating yet dangerous development along the shores of the Dead Sea has severely impacted the once-booming tourism industry in the region leaving many out of work.
The dying Dead Sea has been an albatross around the neck of multiple governments of the region. The dire straits of the lake have ignited concern and interest among environmentalists and researchers throughout the world. The restoration work — which can hopefully stop the formation of sinkholes — requires collaboration from all the parties involved — Isreal, Jordan and Palestine — and massive support from international organisations. It is expected that it could take decades to complete the restoration work and heal the damaged Dead Sea, even with all the parties on board!