After contending with extensive fire damage in the Carmel and the collapse of numerous structures along the Mediterranean shore, the government must now determine how to handle another catastrophe created by man and the forces of nature. The issue at hand this time around? Preventing the flooding of the hotels near the southern Dead Sea, thanks to the rising water level of a pond that serves the Dead Sea Works.
The salt in the pond, which is adjacent to the hotels, is accumulating and causing the water level to rise. Thus far, giant earth berms have been created around the pond to prevent flooding; but it must be decided how much longer this strategy will be used and when it is time to look for another solution. The Finance Ministry has declared its support for possibly moving the hotels further away from the threatening pond. For apparent financial reasons, this option was favored over harvesting the salt - a project the state and Dead Sea Works were supposed to fund together.
Moving the hotels will destroy the local tourism industry, which will find itself operating on a construction site. Meanwhile, quarrying huge amounts of earth to continue raising the berms will also destroy the landscape. And in any case, this strategy will not remove the need to harvest the salt within little more than a decade; the berms cannot be raised indefinitely.
The government has no choice but to deal head-on with the question of the future of the Dead Sea and the integration of industrial activity in the area. The future of the area is to be determined through a master plan now being prepared - but without a decision on these particular hotels, the process of approving the master plan has been delayed for over a year.
The Dead Sea Works operates under a concession that grants it broad freedom of action in and around the Dead Sea until 2030. The plant has decisive influence over the area and is pressing for solutions that will enable it to continue to run the area as it sees fit, while keeping costs as low as possible.
This situation needs to be changed, and the Dead Sea Works should be integrated into current industrial realities - in which industries are responsible for both production processes and their results. The accumulating salt is a by-product of the process of collecting raw materials, and as such the Dead Sea Works should be responsible for dealing with it, paying what is necessary and preventing the flooding of the hotels.
But it is not enough to address the salt level of just one pond. The government should determine, through the master plan now on hold, the overall planning of the Dead Sea area. It should provide the Dead Sea Works with a long-term framework for activity, giving it a sense of certainty and encouraging it to invest in environmental conservation.
The Dead Sea Works will have to base its operations on principles of sustainable development already set out in the master plan. In carrying out any activity to increase production capacity or raise the level of the ponds, it will be required to consider how such activity will impact the environment and the landscape.
Industrial activity will have to be completely subject to planning and building laws, and the Dead Sea Works will have to repair any damages caused in the past. It will also be necessary to reexamine the size of the concession area, the methods of production at the plant and whether the company is justified in its recent request it to build another pond.
The fact that the southern portion of the Dead Sea is now dotted with industrial ponds does not justify further expansion of this activity, which means the continued pumping of water from the northern part of the sea to the ponds and intensifying the process of drying up the sea.
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