‘Save the Dead Sea’


The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • NOAM BEDEIN

‘Take one-minute-shorter show­ers” was the mes­sage I de­liv­ered to third to eighth graders in Saul Mirowitz Jewish Com­mu­nity School in St. Louis, Mis­souri, teach­ing about the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pects of the Dead Sea.

What does wa­ter con­ser­va­tion ed­u­ca­tion in the US have to do with sav­ing the Dead Sea on the other side of the world, one might ask?

A lot!

“Wa­ter stressed con­di­tions” can af­fect up to twothirds of the world in less than a decade, ac­cord­ing the World Bank. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Gov­ern­ment, 40 out of 50 states in the US are ex­pected to ex­pe­ri­ence wa­ter short­age by 2025. The UN Gen­eral Assem­bly an­nounced last De­cem­ber that the wa­ter cri­sis, af­fected mainly by pop­u­la­tion growth and cli­mate change, is one of the main is­sues to be dealt with in the plan­ning pe­riod up to 2030. Even coun­tries that have tra­di­tion­ally had plen­ti­ful wa­ter re­sources are be­com­ing wa­ter-stressed, as I saw in my trav­els in Den­mark this past sum­mer 2018.

The rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing Dead Sea presents a par­tic­u­larly dra­matic chal­lenge on the world scene. This body of wa­ter is one of the great­est nat­u­ral won­ders of the world, lo­cated at the low­est point on earth. It is steeped in his­tory, re­li­gion, cul­ture and heal­ing tra­di­tions. And it has sci­en­tific value in a wide range of fields of study. At the same time it is a part of a large net­work of Mid­dle East­ern wa­ter trea­sures that are un­der se­ri­ous stress, just as so many other wa­ter sys­tems all over the world are. More­over, rich min­er­als mined from it sup­port 25% of the world’s agri­cul­ture, feed­ing over one bil­lion peo­ple; the min­ing can only con­tinue if the Dead Sea’s wa­ter lev­els are ad­e­quate.

Con­ser­va­tion of wa­ter is im­por­tant and will only be­come more so. How­ever, it is also im­por­tant to heal, re­store and ex­pand wa­ter sources. And Is­rael is a world leader in de­vel­op­ing and im­ple­ment­ing large, ad­vanced tech­no­log­i­cal wa­ter so­lu­tions for both ap­proaches. Is­rael also knows that suc­cess re­quires strong diplo­matic re­la­tions with neigh­bor­ing coun­tries and with the gen­eral pub­lic in or­der to re­ha­bil­i­tate, pre­serve and man­age wa­ter sources, us­ing meth­ods in the best pos­si­ble har­mony with na­ture-based so­lu­tions for wa­ter stress. Suc­cess in man­ag­ing the health of the Dead Sea could not only be­come a model for many other projects, but also a path to­ward ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Is­rael’s po­si­tion in the Mid­dle East (did some­one say “nor­mal­iza­tion”?).

Con­nect­ing the dots

On my re­cent trip to the US, spon­sored by St. Louis Friends of Is­rael, I was asked to speak as the

founder and di­rec­tor of The Dead Sea Re­vival Project at Mirowitz school and to the Jewish com­mu­nity.

It was a per­fect time to speak on this topic, right af­ter the High Holy Days and one day af­ter Simhat To­rah, where Jews all over the world have be­gan their daily prayers for rain­fall.

My pre­sen­ta­tions are rooted in two and a half years’ time-lapse doc­u­men­ta­tion of the dra­matic changes con­nected to the re­ced­ing wa­ter lev­els of the Dead Sea – Is­rael’s Won­der of the World. This doc­u­men­ta­tion has a unique emo­tional ef­fect, cou­pling the fright­en­ing im­ages of eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter with the im­ages of beauty and magic, not only in and around the Dead Sea, but more gen­er­ally in the Land of Is­rael. It pro­vides a pow­er­ful tool for in­spir­ing and in­flu­enc­ing a new gen­er­a­tion.

An ad­di­tional layer is added with the per­sonal lessons about what each of us can do as in­di­vid­u­als to take more re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­serve wa­ter, when tak­ing a shower, brush­ing our teeth, wash­ing dishes and so on.

Con­nect­ing the youth from their per­sonal lives – and to the mi­cro en­vi­ron­men­tal story of the Dead Sea us­ing arts of vi­su­als, I also con­nect them to the macro global cause of eval­u­at­ing our world’s wa­ter sources, iden­ti­fy­ing their own wa­ter trea­sure they would help to pre­serve and heal, not only as in­di­vid­u­als, but as a com­mu­nity.

This build­ing of men­tal and emo­tional con­nec­tions is also my own story. I started by fo­cus­ing on our wa­ter trea­sure at the low­est place on Earth, moved out­ward to the en­tire wa­ter sys­tem that the Dead Sea is a part of, and in­ward to my per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. I’ve reached a new level of wa­ter con­scious­ness and eval­u­a­tion, learn­ing not only about Is­rael’s wa­ter chal­lenges, but also of those be­ing faced by Is­rael’s neigh­bors in the Mid­dle East and around the world. Long years of droughts make it in­creas­ingly harder to meet the wa­ter needs of grow­ing pop­u­la­tions. While work­ing to mit­i­gate cli­mate change, the world also needs to re­duce its consequences by re­duc­ing wa­ter us­age, re­cy­cling, not us­ing potable wa­ter for non-drink­ing pur­poses, de­sali­na­tion (in more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ways than cur­rently) and im­prov­ing the health of the nat­u­ral sup­plies of wa­ter.

Mid­dle East­ern pol­i­tics

Learn­ing over the years about the com­plex­i­ties made me re­al­ize the po­ten­tial and value this is­sue has for sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East. And work­ing on so­lu­tions can and should in­volve send­ing a mes­sage to a world that is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing con­flicts over wa­ter sources and wa­ter use.

Wa­ter has al­ways been a cause for war through­out his­tory and es­pe­cially in the Mid­dle East.

Many ex­perts will say that the six-year-plus Syr­ian civil war has been the main cause of wa­ter short­age for hun­dreds of thou­sands of farmers in East­ern Syria, who have been hard hit by the de­ple­tion of wa­ter avail­able for farm­ing – due both to cli­mate change and to the lack of wa­ter pump­ing su­per­vi­sion. Is­rael has ex­pe­ri­enced five years of drought, but the rest of the Mid­dle East has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a decade of droughts. The three main, mighty rivers that have been flow­ing for thou­sands of years in the Mid­dle East – the Ti­gris, Euphrates and Nile – have been al­most dried out in the first time in recorded his­tory. Iran is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the worst suf­fer­ing from wa­ter short­age com­pared to other Mid­dle East coun­tries.

And a ma­jor cause of the mas­sive mi­gra­tion from Africa to Europe is lack of us­able wa­ter.

The Dead Sea is al­ready an arena for co­op­er­a­tive prob­lem-solv­ing. Jor­dan has the fourth least drink­ing wa­ter per capita of all coun­tries in the world, and 1.5 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees have added to the wa­ter de­mand in the past few years. In Am­man, Jor­dan’s cap­i­tal, there’s run­ning wa­ter in the tap only once a week. The Red Sea to Dead Sea Canal project be­tween Is­rael, Jor­dan and the PA, is cur­rently a highly vis­i­ble plat­form to in­crease in­ter­na­tional sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East to­day. This is the main rea­son that the World Bank has granted $10 bil­lion for the largest fa­cil­i­ties in the world for wa­ter de­sali­na­tion. In re­al­ity, the main pur­pose of the “Red-Dead” canal is to pro­vide the king­dom of Jor­dan with de­sali­nated wa­ter for drink­ing. It’s a lit­tle hard to ex­pect Jor­dan to fo­cus on pre­serv­ing our com­mon her­itage when peo­ple don’t have wa­ter to drink.

So the men­tion of the Dead Sea in this project is more sym­bolic than real. But still, the project could con­trib­ute up to about 10% of the ad­di­tional wa­ter flow to the Dead Sea that is needed to sta­bi­lize the wa­ter level. So while there are many crit­ics of the project, rather than re­ject­ing it, it would make more sense to ex­ploit its prac­ti­cal, tech­no­log­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal, and sym­bolic po­ten­tial as part of the to­tal ef­fort.

The broader pic­ture

The main rea­son for the re­ced­ing wa­ter lev­els of the Dead Sea (up to 70%) is that the his­tor­i­cal in­com­ing wa­ter flow is dry­ing out. The Jor­dan River has been dried out al­most com­pletely and the wa­ter lev­els of Lake Kin­neret (the Sea of Galilee) have never been lower. The wa­ter is be­com­ing ever more salty and eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ters are un­fold­ing.

There­fore, we can­not “Save the Dead Sea” if we do not re­ha­bil­i­tate and fill up the Kin­neret, se­cure and re­store the wa­ter sources, open up the dams and have wa­ter flow nat­u­rally through the Jor­dan River to even­tu­ally reach the Dead Sea. Is­rael is now talk­ing about switch­ing the cur­rent na­tional car­rier to bring wa­ter back into the sea as well as build­ing two more de­sali­na­tion plants for North­ern Is­rael in the next decade.

But in the big, global pic­ture, the tech­nolo­gies of cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion and im­prov­ing wa­ter sup­plies are far from enough. The other ma­jor com­po­nent has to do with wa­ter de­mand. Ef­fec­tive wa­ter man­age­ment re­quires tech­no­log­i­cal, cul­tural, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­ter­ven­tions to get the most value out of ev­ery drop of wa­ter used, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to re­cy­cling.

Is­rael has fi­nally stopped pump­ing wa­ter from the Kin­neret. On the Jor­da­nian side of the Jor­dan River, there are over 1,000 pi­rate pumps that drain the river along with one of its sources – the Yar­muk River. There is also pi­rate Syr­ian pump­ing for drink­ing wa­ter and agri­cul­ture. There’s no su­per­vi­sion or func­tion­ing man­age­ment of gov­ern­ment over these wa­ter sources.

While there is al­ways room for im­prove­ment, there is no coun­try even close to Is­rael’s level of wa­ter man­age­ment. Is­rael re­cy­cles up to 90% of its wa­ter, the next coun­try is Spain with 25%. The most ad­vanced state in the US, Cal­i­for­nia, re­cy­cles only up to 5% of its wa­ter. There are al­most no leaks in Is­rael’s wa­ter sys­tems. In

con­trast, 25% to 30% of Lon­don’s wa­ter is wasted. In New York City, 35 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter are wasted ev­ery day be­cause of leaks.

So Is­rael can – and should – use “wa­ter diplo­macy” to as­sist neigh­bor­ing coun­tries to cre­ate proper man­age­ment for se­cur­ing and pre­serv­ing wa­ter sources that also feed rivers in Is­rael, and even­tu­ally help not only to save the Dead Sea, but also to deal with wa­ter crises all over the world.

Start­ing ed­u­ca­tion from an early age is im­por­tant. The Dead Sea Re­vival Project cap­tures at­ten­tion and cu­rios­ity about a World Won­der dis­ap­pear­ing in front of our eyes. Young peo­ple are moved to­ward mak­ing per­sonal de­ci­sions to use pre­cious wa­ter more care­fully and to sup­port work to heal and im­prove the sources of wa­ter lo­cally or glob­ally.

At all lev­els, Is­rael and friends of Is­rael, both within the Jewish com­mu­nity and out­side it, can con­trib­ute to peace and sta­bil­ity through co­op­er­a­tive ef­forts with tan­gi­ble re­sults.

Wa­ter diplo­macy could prove to be one of the strong­est forms of Is­rael pub­lic diplo­macy.

(Photos: Noam Bedein)

‘WE CAN­NOT “Save the Dead Sea” if we do not re­ha­bil­i­tate and fill up Lake Kin­neret’ (pic­tured).

LEFT: A sink­hole swal­lows a park­ing lot at Min­eral Beach. THE WRITER re­cently spoke to third graders at Mirowitz Jewish Com­mu­nity School in St. Louis about The Dead Sea Re­vival Project.

IM­AGES OF beauty and magic sur­round the Dead Sea: A salt sta­lac­tite drips dur­ing sun­rise.

SALT LAYER arts: Is­rael’s world won­der.

THE WRITER warns that his­tor­i­cal in­com­ing wa­ter flow is dry­ing out, as the Jor­dan River (pic­tured) has al­most com­pletely dried out and Lake Kin­neret wa­ter lev­els have never been lower.

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