From: Shafika Mattar, Associated Press
Published May 23, 2005 12:00 AM

Jordan, Israel, Palestinians Agree on Action to Save Shrinking Dead Sea

SOUTHERN SHUNEH, Jordan — Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians agreed Sunday to go ahead with a three-year feasibility study to save the Dead Sea, whose constant evaporation will lead to its complete disappearance in five decades, experts say.


Meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea, officials said the US$15 million (euro12 million) feasibility study would start this year and is expected to finish in 2008.


"Our goal is to help stop the decline of the Dead Sea. Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority will enjoy the fresh water and the area will become fertile," Israeli Cabinet Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer said.


Jordan appealed last year for international assistance to help save the sea and its fragile ecosystem.


The surface level of the sea -- the saltiest water in the world at the lowest point on earth -- has fallen 1 meter (3.3 feet) a year for at least the past 20 years because of evaporation and allegedly the diversion of rivers by Syria and Israel.


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Geological experts warned that the drop in the water level would increase the earthquake possibilities.


They also warned that the Dead Sea will disappear in 50 years if current trends persist.


The World Bank will invite donors to a July conference to raise funds for the feasibility study, said Zafer Alem, secretary-general of the Jordan Valley Authority, a state-run Jordanian agency in charge of developing the area surrounding the Dead Sea. The location of the conference has not yet been announced.


The study will focus on the impact of water conveyance from the Red Sea, which lies at the end of the long valley in which the Dead Sea lies.


Ben Eliezer said the three parties want to ensure that the Dead Sea will not be harmed by the Red Sea project, which is still being negotiated.


"The project involves three parties and our hope is that an era of peace is coming to our region," the Israeli minister said at the opening of a panel to discuss the survival of the sea.


The Dead Sea is shared by Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.


The Red-Dead Sea canal project, which is expected to cost more than US$1 billion (euro797 million), would exploit the 400-meter (1,320-foot) difference in altitude between both areas.


If implemented, the 300-kilometer (248-mile) desert area between the two seas would benefit from the fresh water to turn the region into an agricultural hub for the benefit of the three countries. A desalination project is also envisaged to provide drinking water for the Jordanian capital, Amman. Israel and the Palestinian territories will also benefit from the drinking water.


Source: Associated Press


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