dead sea - Michal Fattal - August 3 2011
The Dead Sea, with hotels in the background. Photo by Michal Fattal
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After many delays, the National Planning and Building Council finally approved a policy for the Dead Sea region that, for the first time, lays down guidelines on how to combine landscape preservation with the area's industrial and tourism enterprises.

But it is not yet clear whether the document will apply to proposed solutions for one of the area's biggest problems: the threat that Dead Sea Works' evaporation pools will flood the hotels on the sea's shoreline.

The document states that the Dead Sea region should be treated as a regional park, meaning great importance will be ascribed to preserving nature and developing tourism. Consideration must also be given to the region's industrial activity, it acknowledges. But nature conservation must take precedence, because the decrease in water flowing into the Dead Sea in recent years has caused serious problems, such as the creation of sinkholes.

Moreover, developmental pressures on the Dead Sea region are likely to increase in coming years, as the document foresees its population doubling within two decades to more than 150,000 - most of them on the Jordanian side of the sea.

The newly approved policy would concentrate tourist activity around the sea's southern end, from Neveh Zohar to Ein Bokek. North of that area, it would permit as little construction and development as possible, and would ban all new industrial activity until the environmental ills created by DSW's existing operations have been repaired.

That provision worries DSW, which fears it would limit new mining and quarrying that the company needs to build infrastructure for its evaporation pools.

The document acknowledges the importance of DSW's activity, but said the ramifications of its plan to build another evaporation pool must be studied. Such a pool might lower the Dead Sea's water level even further, as the sea would provide its water. It could also harm the landscape, since earth and rocks would have to be taken from local streambeds to build earthworks around the pool.

But the document offers no action plan for reversing the sea's falling water level. Instead, it suggests waiting to see what becomes of a proposal now being studied by the World Bank: digging a canal to bring water from the Red Sea.

Now that the document has been approved, the

Interior Ministry must translate it into a master plan. But it's not clear how much weight this master plan would carry, since other plans relating to DSW's operations are already being considered by other forums. For instance, a plan to harvest salt from DSW's evaporation pools to keep them from flooding the hotels was recently approved by the cabinet and is due to be discussed by the national infrastructure committee. And DSW's plan to build a new evaporation pool is already being discussed by the southern district's planning and building committee.

Thus planners fear that ultimately, the new master plan will prove irrelevant to the major industrial projects that have the greatest impact on the region's landscape.