Nota di Lavoro, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei 115.2006
The Dead Sea basin plays a major role for regional economic development (industry, tourism and agriculture) in the Middle East. This potential is threatened by the steady disappearance of the Dead Sea. Since around 1930 the water level of the Dead Sea has fallen by about 25 m, about half of this alone in the last 20 years. The Dead Sea is a transboundary resource shared by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. The Dead Sea is the terminal point of the Jordan River watershed and as such, it serves as a barometer for the health of the overall system. Its rapid decline reflects the present water management strategies of the riparian and upstream countries. This includes the different water cultures of the three countries. Throughout history, the Dead Sea basin has served as a source of refuge and inspiration for followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Today, the religious significance of the Dead Sea is being overshadowed by its rapid disappearance. This may be explained in part by the water cultures of the three countries that influence water policy in the region. Ideology, together with culture and tradition, such as that of Zionism in Israel, has played a central role in water development in the region. In many cases, this has been at the expense of the environment. Elements pertaining to environmental security and water culture and tradition, whereby a sustainably managed environment provides for social, economic as well as environmental benefits are evident with regards the Dead Sea. The decline for example, undermines its potential as a tourist destination, despite the enormous investment in hotel and resort infrastructures in Israel and in Jordan. The decline also raises ethical issues about the exploitation of water resources by present generations at the expense of this natural heritage to future generations. This paper provides an analysis of a European Union funded project whose aims are to synthesize and assess existing physical and socio-economic data and to assess options for a better future for the Dead Sea. It will identify the patterns of water supply and use in the region, and the factors that control these patterns, including those of water culture. The underlying assumption is that solutions for a more sustainable development than todays scenario will not come from simply providing more water for more development, but from a new land and water management system, indeed ethic, that is sensitive to social, cultural and ecological resources thereby providing security and stability across cultures, economic sectors and nations.