Dead Sea - Michal Fattal
Women bathing in the Dead Sea, and coating themselves with the putatively therapeutic Dead Sea mud. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Some NIS 830 million will be allocated toward developing tourism facilities at the Dead Sea, and repairing environmental damage caused in the area over the years, the cabinet decided on Sunday.

The funds earmarked for these purposes, as part of a proposal initiated by Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, will be allocated over the next five years.

For its part, the Tourism Ministry will invest NIS 700 million in development schemes, of which NIS 434 million will be dispersed as grants to finance various initiatives, with the aim being the addition of 2,700 hotel rooms to the Dead Sea area.

The remaining NIS 130 million will go toward rehabilitating the local environment, under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Ministry. This will include dealing with the treacherous sinkholes that have developed due to the drop in the Dead Sea's level. Some funds may also be invested in shoring up the streambeds and springs that have dried up in recent years.

"This government is correcting injustices of many years' standing in relation to the Dead Sea, which until now was viewed primarily as a source of raw materials for industry," said Erdan. "Now we are internalizing the fact that we're talking about a unique natural resource."

Green groups, however, were not overly excited about Sunday's decision.

"This plan won't save the Dead Sea, and is akin to giving Acamol to a cancer patient," said Gideon Bromberg, CEO of Friends of the Earth-Middle East. "Rather than investing in Sunday's industries, there should be investments in developing new technologies that would replace the factories' evaporation pools, which are contributing significantly to the drop in the sea's level."

Sunday's cabinet decision follows an agreement struck between the government and Dead Sea Works to harvest salt from the sea's southern basin, with Dead Sea Works picking up most of the tab. The harvesting process will lower the seabed of the industrial basin, which has accumulated salt from the firm's industrial work, thus raising the level of the water to a point where it threatens to flood the area's hotels.

The government is due to make another major decision soon concerning another initiative involving the Dead Sea: It involves digging a canal from the Red Sea, as part of a project dubbed the "Red-Dead canal," that will bring water into the Dead Sea's main basin and stop the drop in the water level there. The World Bank is due to shortly publish the findings of a feasibility study on the project, which was requested by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.