How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

Special How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 
The Dead Sea bordering Jordan and Israel recedes about a meter every year, leaving vast stretches of salt and mineral plains as a result of the water’s high salinity. (AFP)
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Updated 08 December 2022

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 
  • Water levels have been falling over the past half century, endangering the salt lake’s very existence
  • Joint effort to revive the Jordan River and a canal to the Mediterranean Sea among potential solutions

AMMAN: From Greco-Roman times, the Dead Sea’s unique equilibrium was finely balanced by nature. Fresh water from nearby rivers and springs flowed into the lake, combining with rich salt deposits and then evaporating, leaving behind a brine of 33 percent salinity.

Now, owing to a combination of climatic and man-made factors, this balance has been disrupted. As a result, the Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century, endangering its very existence.




The Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century. (AFP)

At the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, held in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh in November, a joint Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed to try to address the Dead Sea’s decline.

However, given that the deal excluded the Palestinians and was signed by an outgoing Israeli environment ministry official, some say that its chances of success are low.

Without sufficient funding, and in the absence of a three-way agreement, Jordan and Israel have instead decided to focus on cleaning up the Jordan River to help replenish the Dead Sea’s main water source.

What was signed by Israeli and Jordanian officials on the sidelines of COP27 was an agreement to this effect. But if the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater sources and to set aside political rivalries for the common environmental good.

No one knows exactly how the Dead Sea came into being. The Bible and other religious texts suggest this lifeless, salty lake at the lowest point on Earth was created when God rained down fire and brimstone on the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Russian experts have even tried excavating under the lake bed in the hope of finding evidence to support the Biblical tale. A nearby religious site called Lot’s Cave is said to be where the nephew of Abraham and his daughters lived after fleeing the destruction.

Scientists, meanwhile, point to the lake’s more mundane, geological origins, claiming the Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago.

Halfway through the 20th century, among the first big decisions made by the newly formed state of Israel was to divert large amounts of water by pipelines from the Jordan River to the southern Negev, in order to realize the dream of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion to “make the desert bloom.”




If the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater. (AFP)

In 1964, Israel’s Mekorot National Water Company inaugurated its National Water Carrier project, which gave the Degania Dam — completed in the early 1930s — a new purpose: to regulate the water flow from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River.

One result was that the share of water reaching the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan fell drastically, thereby depriving the Dead Sea of millions of cubic meters of freshwater per year from its primary source.

Another potential contributing factor at present is the Israeli company behind Ein Gedi Mineral Water. The Ein Gedi bottling plant has monopolized the use of freshwater from a spring that lies within the 1948 borders of the state of Israel and which long fed into the Dead Sea.

However, not all the blame for the lake’s decline rests with one country. According to Elias Salameh, a water science professor at the University of Jordan, every country in the region bears some responsibility.

“All of us are responsible at different levels for what has happened to the Dead Sea,” Salameh told Arab News. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have all sucked up water intended for the Dead Sea in order to satisfy their own needs.

FASTFACTS

• The Dead Sea receives almost all its water from the Jordan River.

• It is the lowest body of water on the surface of the planet.

• In the mid-20th century, it was 400 meters below sea level.

• By the mid-2010s, it had fallen to 430 meters below sea level.

In 1955, the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, brokered by US Ambassador Eric Johnston, allowed Israel to use 25 million cubic meters of Yarmouk River water per year, Syria 90 million and Jordan 375 million.

“But not all countries abided by the commitments made to the American, Johnston,” said Salameh. “It was never signed because Arab countries had not recognized Israel and refused to sign any agreement with Israel. Syria took the biggest portion, getting away with 260-280 million cubic meters annually.”

In the 1970s, Jordan and Syria began their own diversion of the Yarmouk River, the largest tributary of the Jordan River, again reducing its flow. Another agreement, in 1986, gave Jordan the right to 200 million cubic meters. But, in reality, Jordan took barely 20 million.

According to the UN, Jordan is the second most water-scarce country in the world. The 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, which led to the mass exodus of Palestinians, more than doubled Jordan’s population, making its water needs even more acute.

As a result of these deals and diversions, the Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating.




“Climate change has aggressively hit Jordan in the past two years,” said Motasem Saidan, University of Jordan professor. (Supplied)

During the first 20 years after 1976, the water level dropped by an average of six meters per decade. Over the next decade, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, it fell by nine meters. In the decade up to 2015, it fell by 11 meters.

Some attribute this accelerating decline to man-made climate change. Climate scientists say global warming has already resulted in significant alterations to human and natural systems, one of which is increased rate of evaporation from water bodies.

At the same time, the waters of the Dead Sea are not being replenished fast enough.

Although the Dead Sea borders Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and despite the valiant efforts of such cross-border NGOs as Earth Peace, which includes activists from all three communities, no serious collective action has been taken to deal with the ecological disaster.

Cooperation is essential, however, to stave off the wider environmental consequences — most concerning of all being the rapid proliferation of sinkholes along the Dead Sea shoreline.

According to scientists, when freshwater diffuses beneath the surface of the newly exposed shoreline, it slowly dissolves the large underground salt deposits until the earth above collapses without warning.

Over a thousand sinkholes have appeared in the past 15 years alone, swallowing buildings, a portion of road, and date-palm plantations, mostly on the northwest coast. Environmental experts believe Israeli hotels along the shoreline are now in danger.

On the Jordanian side, too, the fate of luxury tourism resorts along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea face is in the balance.




Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago, scientists say. (AFP)

“The main highway, which is the artery to all the big Jordanian hotels, is in danger of collapsing if the situation is not rectified,” Salameh said.

Israel has developed a system that can predict where the next sinkhole will appear, based on imagery provided by a satellite operated by the Italian Space Agency, which passes over the Dead Sea every 16 days and produces a radar image of the area.

By comparing sets of images, even minimal changes in the topography can be identified before any major collapse.

Israeli officials have been searching for solutions to prevent a further decline in water levels and thereby stave off the spread of sinkholes. One suggestion is the construction of a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.

A report compiled to assess the potential impact of transferring Red Sea water into the lower-lying Dead Sea found that a moderate flow could slow, but not halt, the retreat of the Dead Sea and reduce the number of new sinkholes per year.

Ironically, it found that too much Red Sea water could have the opposite effect. If the flow was significant enough to raise the level of the Dead Sea, the report predicted the sinkhole problem would be exacerbated.

Because the Red Sea is less salty than the Dead Sea, it would likely increase the dissolution of underground salt deposits and thereby speed up the appearance of sinkholes.

Although many solutions have been suggested to help address the Dead Sea’s decline, none has been implemented owing in large part to a lack of funding.




The Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating. (AFP)

According to Salameh, the most logical solution proposed to date is the Med-Dead project, which would allow for a channel to run from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.

Two of the sites proposed for this channel are Qatif, near the Gaza Strip, and Bisan, north of the Jordan River in Jordan. However, such a plan would first require Jordanian and Palestinian approvals.

Jordan has also suggested a similar project establishing a channel from the Red Sea, but Salameh does not consider this feasible.

“The distance is long, and it is not a viable project,” he said.


S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
Updated 26 January 2023

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace

S. Sudan’s displaced hope pope’s visit will bring peace
  • Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan

JUBA: After spending nearly a decade in a camp for the displaced in South Sudan’s Juba, Mayen Galuak hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to the capital city next week will inspire political leaders to finally restore peace, allowing him to go home.

The 44-year-old entered the UN camp, just a few kilometers from his residence, in search of safety three days after conflict broke out in 2013.

In the ensuing years, he has watched as South Sudan’s leaders forged peace deals and broke them; as militias carried out and denied ethnic massacres; and as relentless conflict pushed parts of the country into famine.

Pope Francis is due to go to Congo from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan. 

The pope has wanted to visit South Sudan for years but plans were postponed due to the instability there and a scheduled trip last June was canceled due to the pope’s knee ailment.

The Vatican’s envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo has said the trip will remind the world not to ignore decades-long conflicts.

“We are in a bad situation ... since 2013, we have not seen any good peace,” said Galuak, who says he can’t travel to his birth home in the country’s north because of the risk of attack. Sporadic clashes continue to kill civilians throughout the country.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011.


Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
Updated 26 January 2023

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan

Jailed Kurdish leader urges unity against Erdogan
  • The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade

ISTANBUL: Turkiye’s pro-Kurdish party should back the main opposition candidate instead of fielding its own against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May elections, its elder statesman told AFP from jail.

“I am in favor of backing a joint candidate” Selahattin Demirtas, who ran against Erdogan twice, told AFP through a lawyer from his jail in the western city of Edirne.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party or HDP — parliament’s third-largest — faces the threat of being banned ahead of polls in which Erdogan will seek to extend his rule into a third decade.

Erdogan portrays the HDP as the political wing of outlawed Kurdish militants who have been waging a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The party says it is being singled out for standing up for Kurdish rights and resisting Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties.

Turkiye’s top court is expected to rule on a prosecutor’s request to shut it down in the coming months.

The party’s legal problems add a new layer of uncertainty to the parliamentary and presidential polls — widely viewed as Turkiye’s most important in generations.

The HDP has been excluded from a six-party opposition alliance now trying to agree on a single candidate to run against Erdogan.

But after securing 12 percent of the vote in 2018 elections, the HDP’s future could prove decisive in what promises to be a tight race.

Demirtas’s second presidential challenge came from behind bars, where he has languished since 2016 on a myriad of charges, some of them terror-related.

The 49-year-old denies them all and the European Court of Human Rights agrees, repeatedly calling for his release.

Demirtas has been convicted on some counts since the last election, making him ineligible to run again.

But the party’s co-chairwoman, Pervin Buldan, suggested this month that the party should still field its own candidate, even without its brightest star.

Demirtas conceded that Buldan might ultimately get her way.

“At this stage, it seems more likely that the HDP will nominate its own candidate,” he said.

But a “compromise with the HDP through negotiations” could still produce a joint candidate representing Turkiye’s entire opposition — including the Kurds, he said.


Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region
Updated 26 January 2023

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region

Syrian Kurdish forces arrest Daesh commander in eastern region
  • The commander served as the chief of the extremist group’s faction for Raqqa and was among the 68 militants detained in the operation

RAQQA: Syrian Kurdish-led forces captured a local commander of Daesh in eastern Syria as part of an ongoing operation targeting sleeper cells in the city of Raqqa, the US-backed forces announced on Thursday.

The commander served as the chief of the extremist group’s faction for Raqqa and was among the 68 militants detained in the operation, the Syrian Democratic Forces said.

The operation started earlier this week, in response to a December attack by Daesh that targeted military and security buildings in Raqqa and killed at least six Syrian Kurdish fighters. 

A Kurdish commander, Mazloum Abdi, said they had indications of “serious preparations” by Daesh for attacks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based opposition war monitor, said Daesh also targeted a military intelligence prison holding some 200 militants in the December attack.

Daesh lost all territorial control in Iraq and Syria in 2019, following a yearslong US-backed campaign that defeated the so-called caliphate, where Raqqa was once the Daesh de facto capital. 

However, militant sleeper cells persist and have since killed scores of Iraqis and Syrians. 

Syrian Kurdish and US forces frequently conduct raids targeting Daesh sleeper cells in northern and eastern Syria.

The captured Daesh commander was identified as Atallah Al-Maythan. 

Syrian Kurdish forces said he headed the militant group’s operations across Raqqa province, and allegedly “confessed to his involvement in planning and leading terrorist acts,” extorted money from residents in the area and kept Daesh sleeper cells in contact.

Some 5,000 Syrian Kurdish-led fighters are involved in the operation, and have already raided some 80 locations, said their spokesperson, Farhad Shami.

The US-led coalition was providing air support, reconnaissance, and gathering intelligence, Shami added.

This is the second recent operation by the US-backed forces in Syria. In late December, the Syrian Kurdish-led fighters targeted Daesh cells in Al-Hol and Tal Hamis, following a surge in militant attacks.

The US Central Command said that 215 militants from Daesh were arrested last year and 466 were killed in Syria. There are roughly 900 US troops in Syria.


First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month
Updated 26 January 2023

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month

First Arab long-duration astronaut mission to launch next month
  • UAE mission specialist Sultan Al-Neyadi to make first trip to space
  • Country sent its first astronaut to ISS in 2019

DUBAI: The first Arab long-duration astronaut mission is scheduled to launch on Feb. 26, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center has announced.
A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket will carry UAE astronaut and mission specialist Sultan Al-Neyadi, along with two NASA astronauts — mission commander Stephen Bowen and pilot Warren Hoburg — and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
Key mission information, such as the launch time and launch opportunities, was announced during the NASA Crew-6 mission overview media briefing, Emirates News Agency reported on Thursday.
MBRSC Director-General Salem Humaid Al-Marri said: “We are proud to talk about our second mission under the UAE Astronaut Program and Sultan’s first mission to space.
“Our human space program kicked off in 2017 where we selected our first two astronauts, Hazzaa Al-Mansoori and Sultan Al-Neyadi. We had our first mission to the ISS in 2019, which had an impact on hundreds of thousands of people.”
He added: “Today, Al-Neyadi is a very capable astronaut and he, along with his colleague Al-Mansoori have a total of five years of training, including training on EVAs and operations aboard the ISS.
“We have over 20 science experiments from UAE universities in the upcoming mission and a lot of outreach activities being done across the region.”
Al-Neyadi said: “The idea of waking up every morning and having access to a window like the Cupola, where one can scan the entire world in 90 minutes, is amazing, and I believe it is literally out of this world.
“The trip to space by Al-Mansoori marked the UAE’s consistent presence in space. Our prime minister promised to continue these flights, and now we’re talking about the second mission to the International Space Station.
“This time we raised the bar to six months, and we now have two additional astronauts training with the class of ‘23.
He added: “I would also love to see a UAE flag on the lunar surface, carried on the shoulder of a UAE astronaut.
“The UAE is doing an excellent job, and I believe that in the next 10 years, we will be following international efforts to go to space and push the boundaries of exploration.”


Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza
Updated 26 January 2023

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza

Ancient Egyptian tombs, artifacts discovered near pyramids of Giza
  • One coffin untouched for 4,300 years, lead archaeologist Zahi Hawass says
  • Statues, amulets, tools also among treasures unearthed in Saqqara region

CAIRO: Egypt’s most renowned archaeologist has announced the discovery of dozens of new finds, including two ancient tombs, at a Pharaonic necropolis just outside Cairo.

Zahi Hawass, a former government minister and director of the excavation, said the finds in Saqqara, close to the pyramids of Giza, dated back to the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom, which ran from about 2500-2100 B.C.

“The excavation work of the joint mission with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities discovered tombs dating back to the era of the Old Kingdom, which indicates the presence of a huge cemetery with many important tombs,” he said.

“The first of these is the tomb of Khnumdjedef, a supervisor of the nobles and priest in the pyramid complex of Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty. The tomb is colorful and contains scenes of daily life.

“The second is for Messi, known as the Keeper of Secrets and assistant commander of the great palace,” Hawass said.

The team also discovered a number of colored limestone statues representing servants believed to have been owned by Messi.

They also found a limestone coffin belonging to a man called Haka Shabis in a hidden room at the bottom of a 15-meter well, he added.

“It became clear that this coffin had not been touched for about 4,300 years. When we opened the lid we found a mummy of a man covered in gold foil. This is considered the most complete and oldest non-royal mummy found so far.”

There were also several statues representing the judge and writer Fatak, located next to an offering table and a coffin containing his mummified remains.

Dr. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that while many statues had been unearthed in the Saqqara region over the past century, very few were of the size of the latest finds.

“The current discovery also includes many amulets, cosmetic tools, statues of the idol Ptah Soker, statues in the form of deities, as well as pottery and votive vessels.”

Hawass said the Saqqara archaeological region still held many secrets waiting to be discovered.