Israeli photojournalist Noam Bedein hosted a talk about saving the Dead Sea and how Middle Eastern geopolitics play a role on Wednesday, Nov. 14 in the Student Activities Center.
In 2017, Bedein founded the Dead Sea Revival Project (DSRP), an organization that aims to restore the water levels of the Dead Sea and educate people on preservation of other “water treasures” around the world, using the Dead Sea as a case study. Bedein, who is also a photographer for National Geographic, uses different forms of media to spread awareness of the receding waters of the Dead Sea such as photography of the area, time-lapse photos over years, educational videos, salt layer art, social media tags such as #SaveOurWaterTreasures and virtual reality.
“Usually people like to put the focus on the factories and the industry, which does have a huge part of the receding water level, but it’s not really the root of the problem,” Bedein said. “The problem isn’t really the water coming out of the Dead Sea. There’s not water coming into the Dead Sea.”
The Dead Sea, also known as the salt sea, is a lake that is at the lowest point of elevation on Earth, bordering Israel, Jordan and parts of the West Bank. It is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, with a 33.7 percent salinity. The high salt content makes it difficult for aquatic life to exist, but macroscopic fish and plants and microscopic bacteria still live in the lake, according to Bedein. It is also abundant in minerals which are used in various medicinal and beauty products for their health benefits.
The Dead Sea’s surface waters are receding at a rate of 1.5 meters or 5 feet per year, which is equivalent to having about 600 olympic pools of water emptied every day, Bedein said. It is at its lowest point in recorded history and has lost one-third of its surface area.
The receding waters cause sinkholes, which are unpredictable depressions in the ground that make it dangerous for people to visit the area. Entire beaches and resorts have been shut down. The Jerusalem Post reported in 2015 that 5,000 sinkholes have appeared near the Dead Sea and hundreds are created every year.
“I had no idea that this environmental disaster was happening at this part of the world,” Taylor Larson, a junior environmental humanities major and vice president of the Environmental Club, said. “Here in New York, it’s very far removed.”
Although companies that extract minerals from the lake are partially at fault, Bedein said the sources of water are being dried out because of climate change and lack of water management. In order to restore the Dead Sea, water levels in the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret) would need to be restored to flow into the Jordan River, then into the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River are in danger as well.
“In the next decade, the water crisis is going to be one of the biggest crises the world is going to deal with,” Bedein said. “The project to save the Dead Sea is a symbol in the Middle East. It is only the symbol of the Middle East for cooperation.”
The water crisis in Jordan has been exacerbated by the growing refugee population there. According to a 2017 broadcast of Asia Today — a news show from the China Global Television Network — there are 1.5 million Syrians in Jordan and water consumption increased by 22 percent since the refugee crisis began in 2015. Americans on average consume 9,000 cubic meters of water per capita, while Jordanians use 150.
Jordan has attempted to develop water resources but is reaching its limit on the amount of water that is accessible due to lack of renewable water resources in the country and unsustainable groundwater extraction. Countries like Jordan and Israel have used up most of the Jordan River for agricultural and water needs to meet the population’s demands. USAID states the current amount of renewable water resources in Jordan meets only half of water consumption.
The World Bank plans to finance the Red Sea–Dead Sea project, which according to the 2015 feasibility report from French consulting and engineering firm, Coyne et Beiller, aims to save the Dead Sea from degradation, desalinate water and/or generate affordable hydroelectricity and “build a symbol of peace in the Middle East.”
The project will bring fresh water to Jordan and Israel and build the world’s largest desalination plant, Oded Fixler, director of the Red Sea–Dead Sea project, said in the Asia Today broadcast.
“Water is a common factor in this entire earth and to realize how quickly it hits home is such an eye-opening experience. Especially when you think about how ‘Oh I can just turn on the faucet and drink a glass of water’ and not realizing in two years I can’t do that anymore because there will be such a drought,” Samantha Duerte, a freshman biomedical engineering major, said. “For some people it doesn’t hit as hard until you see the actual damage that’s being done and how its affecting my own home town.”
For Israeli student Eilona Feder — an Israeli-American Council Mishelanu fellow and senior biochemistry major — the environmental disaster of the Dead Sea hits close to home. Feder visited the Dead Sea many times growing up since her mother worked as a doctor at the local resorts. She organized the event along with Hillel to spread awareness of the issue.
“It is one of my favorite places in Israel. It is such an important place to Israel and the world. It is such a touristic place so people need to know what is happening and think of the solutions,” Feder said. “We’re the next generation. Informing people, especially educated people, about this problem is very important. Some people study environmental science and engineering. All those classes and all those majors can someday help solve solutions. Even [we] can help.”