Israel 'seeking early re-tender' of mining rights to save shrinking Dead Sea

Israel 'seeking early re-tender' of mining rights to save shrinking Dead Sea
The Israeli government is seeking to re-tender the mining rights in the Dead Sea amid warnings the natural wonder is shrinking a metre a year.
2 min read
13 August, 2018
The shrinking of the Dead Sea is causing sink holes to appear around it [Getty]
The Israeli government is seeking an early re-tender of the mining rights in the Dead Sea, which is shrinking by about a metre a year.

The salty lake, a popular destination for tourists who visit to float in its high-density water and smear its mineral-rich mud on their skin, is facing a "slow-motion" environmental disaster, according to experts.

While the Jordan river, its main tributary, is one of the causes for the water loss, with communities using the water for farming and drinking, mining has been blamed for making the crisis worse.

Of the 700-800 million cubic metres of water lost each year, 250-350 million cubic meters is due to mining, Israel has estimated.

The loss has prompted the Israeli government to intervene in the operations of the formerly state-owned extractor Dead Sea Works, which is now operated under a 70-year concession by Israel Chemicals (ICL).

Israel wants to re-tender the contract in 2022, eight years ahead of schedule, according to a Reuters report.

Despite the environmental concerns, its primary motivation is that ICL could delay new investments in the concession's final years.

ICL is expected to be open to scrapping the concession, however, as it includes an article that gives Tel Aviv the rights to interfere in investments starting in 2020, putting the mining company under a decade of close government security.

Galit Cohen, deputy director-general for policy and planning at the environmental protection ministry, told Reuters: "This is a one-time opportunity, as the concession comes to an end and we enter a new period, to set standards for the factory's operations and the environmental impact on the whole area."

ICL is generally free to do whatever it wants to maximise production, she said.

"They have no incentive to reduce the amount of water they pump or think about from where they get the earth to build their dikes," said Cohen. He was part of a inter-ministerial committee that produced a report earlier this year with guidelines on how to balance profits with environmental interests in the Dead Sea.

The degradation of the Dead Sea, on the border of Israel, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian West Bank, began in the 1960s when water began to be heavily diverted from the Jordan River.

Without intervention, the Dead Sea will keep losing water. However, as the level drops, the density and saltiness are rising and will eventually reach a point where the rate of evaporation will equilibrium, so it won't disappear entirely. 

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