FR EN ES Search
  1. Home
  2. Past Events
  3. The Dead Sea threatened


All the news

The Dead Sea threatened

The world’s lowest-lying land surface, the Dead Sea is threatened with disappearance. The rise in temperatures and pumping in the River Jordan are the reasons for this phenomenon that scientists say could lead to the next ecological disaster.

Dead Sea map. credit Globe-trotting


The Dead Sea is considered to be a treasure of nature; not because of its ecological wealth: only a few microorganisms like plankton and bacteria are capable of living in it, a specific characteristic that explains its name. What makes it exceptional is the magnitude of its different characteristics: very high salinity – a salt content higher than 27%, whereas the average rate of the oceans and seas ranges from 2 to 4% – and its position 430 metres below sea level. In the midst of arid mountains, the Dead Sea, which is in fact only a salt lake with turquoise blue water, has long fascinated humans and provided them with therapeutic benefits. 51 kilometres long and 18 kilometres wide, it is shared between Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

This treasure is in danger: over the last fifty years it has lost 28% of its depth and a third of its surface area. Its level is falling inexorably, with on average 1.45 metre per year. Will the Dead Sea vanish?


A turning point reached in 1960

© Rafael Ben-Ari/Cham/NEWSC

For thousands of years the Dead Sea was filled with freshwater from the River Jordan, via the Sea of Galilee. In 1960, the State of Israel was undergoing rapid development and decided to create a new waterway to cultivate the desert. The natural flow of the Jordan was therefore blocked by a dam built on the south of the Sea of Galilee. During the same period, in the Jordanian city of Amman, a canal was built to exploit the much-valued salt of the Dead Sea. The impact of this infrastructure was to accelerate the evaporation of the water, which greatly contributed to lowering its level. The balance between the supply of freshwater via the River Jordan and natural evaporation was broken. The construction of the bypass canal to irrigate crops was continued.

The overexploitation of water resources reduced the discharge of the River Jordan to almost a trickle, decreasing from 1,300 m3/s in the 1960s to 300 m3/s at the beginning of the 2000s. This had the impact of forming huge craters called sinkholes. There are some 6,000 of them in Israel and Jordan. These circular depressions can reach several kilometres in diameter. They are formed by the infiltration of water in the soil, creating underground cavities and leading to the risk of erosion and landslides.


Is there a project to save the Dead Sea?

At the end of 2006, the World Bank and the French Development Agency (AFD) assisted Israel and Jordan to design a colossal project: link the Dead Sea to the Red Sea via an underground canal 180 kilometres long. An agreement between the countries was signed in 2013. It foresaw in particular a desalination plant to the north of the port of Aqaba to produce drinking water, scarce in the region. But the high cost of the project, evaluated at $10 billion, and the ecological controversy it fomented, brought it to a standstill. Now, simpler alternatives, though certainly insufficient on their own, are being proposed, such as the banning of construction on coastal areas in Jordan. For its part, Israel is considering taxing the mining industries that pump the precious water of the Dead Sea.

Photographer Lili/Shutterstock

The water of the Dead Sea is increasingly threatened by the impacts of its falling level: water is rarer, salinity is rising and risks reaching a toxic rate. A corrosive green and acid water is developing.

Although the Dead Sea is fed by the River Jordan, the latter is fed by the Sea of Galilee which is its source. However, this lake has been affected by drastic falls in its level over the past few years, setting off a vicious circle between the three systems.


For further information: discover the documentary on replay on Arte until the end of July


Mettez à jour votre navigateur pour consulter ce site