It’s summer, and the Dead Sea is dying. This iconic ancient spot in the Holy Land is the lowest visible place on earth—and it’s only getting more visible because the water level is dropping an astounding four feet every year. While some of this is attributable to summer heat (exacerbated by climate change), most of it is due to humans pulling water out of the Dead Sea water system at both ends.
The fresh water sources that feed the Sea, such as the Jordan River, are being increasingly tapped for drinking water and irrigation. At the other end, mineral-rich therapeutic Dead Sea water is being pumped out and evaporated on a commercial scale to extract its rich resources for various commercial applications, ranging from beauty products to fertilizer.
This Dead Sea death is causing upheaval at multiple levels. Massive sinkholes are taking out roads, parking lots, and seaside farms (take a look at the photos in this NPR article). To meet both tourism and commercial demands, Dead Sea Works in Israel has created an artificial evaporation pool—perhaps because the Sea itself is increasingly difficult to reach. As you can see in the photo above that I took last November, the hotel and its amenities are now far from the shoreline!
Part of the problem is that the Dead Sea and part of the Jordan River form an international boundary between the countries of Israel and Jordan. Both these desert nations have been exploiting the water system for decades, and finding consensus on solutions has proven impossible so far.
On my first trip to the Holy Land, I took this photo out the bus window. The sign explains that this rock with the black lines was used by the Palestinian Exploration Fund to mark the Dead Sea water level in 1913 and 1917. The road on which we were driving was far above the Dead Sea at that point—and that was five years ago.
So, why have I chosen to focus on this today? Partly because it’s a very stark reminder for those of us who live in deserts that there is a real price to pay for our water extraction. We cannot keep this up long-term. Meanwhile, our American siblings on the Southeast and Gulf coasts face increasing flood devastation as Atlantic sea levels rise.
Climate change is just that: change. We have set cascading events in motion, and we cannot fathom their full consequences. Who could have imagined that we would have the capability to empty an entire sea in just a couple of centuries?
Next week I’ll reflect more on water in the Holy Land, heading north to look at the waterways in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, I invite you to ponder and pray about the complex importance of water and the ways we are upsetting earth’s delicate balancing act.