Activities  Dead Sea

Water scarcity and aquifer pollution

Water access in the Dead Sea region has reached a critical stage. The demand exceeds the renewable amount of water available leading to over-pumping the underground aquifers and fossil water. At such rate, this resource should not last more than a few decades despite the use of modern technology (desalinization of seawater, cloud seeding).

Shallow aquifers are polluted by nitrates from field irrigation and sewage, whereas over-exploitation of coastal underground water has decreased the water level allowing sea water infiltration. The situation is particularly critical in the Gaza strip owing to the high population density resulting from large influx of refugees and high birth rates.

Water will be one of the key issues of the 21st century and a source of tensions and conflicts, unless a fair share of the resource is achieved. This will be a difficult but necessary challenge in order to restore and maintain peace between the different communities.

The Dead Sea is indeed dying

Ancient Dead Sea deposits, now several hundreds of meters above present sea level.

With 1500 mm of evaporation per year over the dead sea and the use of 90% of the Jordan river, the lack of water is leading to a decrease in the sea water level.
If in the last 400 years the system was varying between - 385 and -405m, since the 60s the variation seems to be deconnected from natural cycle. The level has gone below, and has been dropping ever since at a rate close to 1 m per year.

Satellite imagery taken in 1973, 1987 and 2000 depict the decline of the dead sea.

The building of dikes and shoreline changes are well depicted on these three images displayed in true color, RGB (1,2,3). The sea water level is dropping down at a rate of 1m per year.

Due to abstractions taking place both on Israeli and Jordanian sides, the 10% water now reaching the Sea no longer compensates for evaporation.
Salt works, installed in what was the shallow southern basin of the Sea prior to its separation from the northern basin in the 80s, also contributes to the shrinking of the Sea.
The evaporation ponds fed by water pumped in main water body are said to be responsible for 25-30% of the total evaporation of Dead Sea water.


Increasing pressure on land and water (zone A)

Significant increase in population increase the demand of water exceeding the amount of renewable water. The deficit can be seen in orange and red on the graph.

These two Landsat show the increase in settlements and population on west bank between 1975 and 2000.
Photo: CICR / LENGGENHAGER, Yann (2000)
Tulk district, Ariel. Equipment for the water treatment alimenting the Israeli settlement provoking overflows in the Wali.

Statistics sources and references:
(1) Libiszewski, S. (1995), Water Disputes in teh Jordan Basin Region, Environment and Conflicts Project ENCOP, ETHZ, Switzerland.
(2) Internal Renewable Water Resources, AQUASTAT Information System on Water in Agriculture, (FAO, 2000)
(3) Population Growth Rate: World Pop. Prosp. years 1995-2000, UN Dep. Of Economic and Social Affairs
(4) Israel Yearbook & Almanac, (JTA), Jerusalem Post. The America-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.

Future possibilities toward a sustainable water use?

To avoid a further decrease of the dead sea level and achieve a sufficient supply of water to all inhabitants of the region, a balance between the demand and the amount of water available need to be reached before the underground water disappears. The solutions may include:

An improvement of sewage system and water decontamination to avoid aquifers pollution.
Refilling the Dead Sea with water brought from the Red Sea or the Mediterranean by canals. This would enable the production of hydroelectricity using the 400m of levels difference. This energy could be used for desalinating the water.
Increasing the quantity and quality of water inputs into the Dead Sea through better irrigation efficiency or even replacement of agriculture by less water-intensive activities.
A control of population growth in relation to the potential of the water system sustainability.

Poster Quick Look

Research conducted by: Pascal Peduzzi and Jean-Michel Jaquet, GRID-Europe