Jordan makes grand show of salvaging Dead Sea

Image copyright AFP Image caption An artist’s impression of the rippling natural lake found beneath the Jordan River in the Dead Sea

Just more than a decade ago, many thought the Dead Sea would vanish.

With its distinctive red earth (and famous mineral concentration), the once-eerie, 190m-deep bed of the Jordan was seen as the next dry-pool apocalypse.

But a pro-active Jordanian initiative brought some hope to the local tourist industry in 2012.

And in the past three years, a successful programme of physical and environmental remediation has been implemented.

Situated at around 2000m below sea level, the Dead Sea was first formed when salty mud and water, an alkaline water salt solution, converged under Jordan’s ancient aqueduct system.

One of the most remarkable lake formations on earth, the Dead Sea, a giant beige and yellow blanket, with the fresh water seeping into the salt waters, was quickly causing havoc to Jordan’s livelihood.

The rate of decline was truly alarming. The Dead Sea was at risk of becoming the third largest saltwater lake in the world.

Image copyright AFP Image caption A surfer enjoys the natural waves of the Dead Sea during the rainy season

The Jordan Tourism Organization led a planning and steering committee to tackle the problem.

“The Jordanian government understood that the Dead Sea could eventually become a scar on the country,” says Mustafa Salama, director of the Dead Sea Jordan Culture Centre.

“This led to a progressive but sensitive and change-driven approach.”

The Jordanian government, aided by the Oslo Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, convinced seven other nations to undertake a programme of “fragile sanctuaries”, thereby creating temporary and stable wetland ecosystems at strategic locations within the Jordan River system.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Wastewater is taken out of the Jordan River as it is being drained, in an attempt to mitigate the effects of over-exploitation in the region

Some 85% of the Jordanian tourist budget is dependent on tourism. And almost 60% of the tourists come from the Gulf states.

Besides, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are all currently building huge dam projects.

The Dead Sea is situated within the same bed as one of the proposed US White Sands Missile Range.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Natural pools are hidden away within the Jordan River bed

“It is clear that the demise of the Dead Sea would impact the tourism sector throughout the region,” says Anwar Amri, managing director of the Jordan Hotel Association.

“This is why we need to come up with creative ways to address the problem and to promote the Dead Sea’s aesthetic potential.”

To that end, the government has been promoting the region as a cool climate destination that can compete with regions in Europe and North America.

It has also developed both parks and areas with dense vegetation, such as oases and desert gardens, to filter run-off water away from the Dead Sea.

“We have instituted a holistic approach,” says Mr Salama.

“There has been an increase in tourism, hence a rise in the growth of the local economy and the tourist intake.”

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