When the planet's most pressing environmental challenges are so blatantly ignored on a world stage, everyday, World Environment Day is an important opportunity to remind ourselves how crucial natural resources are to our wellbeing, and how saving them is not a gimmick but an imperative.
Here in the Middle East, conflict has taken a dire toll on both people and nature. The Dead Sea is especially paying a high price, and so, as a result, are Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis. On this World Environment Day we are proud to officially start the countdown to a very special event, which we hope will start turning things around for the Dead Sea.
What is the problem?
The Dead Sea - the lowest place on earth and a unique ecosystem that is an important source of economic gain for our region - is rapidly disappearing; shrinking at the frightening rate of over a metre per year. The Dead Sea has receded by 25 metres in just 30 years and has lost a third of its surface area. This ecological catastrophe is man-made: The Lower Jordan River, the main body of water that use to feed the Dead Sea, has had 95 per cent of its waters diverted by Israel, Syria and Jordan, and the Israeli and Jordanian mineral industries are outrageously excused from paying for the water they evaporate in order to extract the Dead Sea minerals, thus having no incentive to develop alternative, water-conserving technologies. A related important issue is the lack of Palestinian access to this valuable resource: the rights of the Palestinians over the Jordan River and the Dead Sea are being held hostage by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the inability of the parties to reach a comprehensive, final status agreement.
The Dead Sea Swim Challenge is the first ever crossing of the Dead Sea, a complex, life threatening undertaking designed to raise awareness of the Sea's demise and call for concerted action on the part of our governments to deal with the root causes of the Dead Sea’s demise.
On November 15th a team of some 30 swimmers from around the world and the region will embark on the 6-hour swim across the Dead Sea, using special full-facial masks to prevent the salt from entering their lungs. At the launch and at its conclusion, public events will be held involving affected communities and seeking to attract the very decision makers that we expect to take action to prevent the further demise of the Dead Sea.
Who are we?
We are EcoPeace Middle East – a Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli environmental peacebuilding organisation. Our main concern is the region's water and environmental issues. We work from both the top-down (advocacy) and bottom-up (grassroots), bringing together communities as well as decision makers from our three countries to cooperatively advance solutions to the shared water problems that affect the wellbeing of every single person in our region.
On the Dead Sea like on other matters, we work in partnership with other like-minded groups. For the Dead Sea Swim Challenge we have partnered with an adventurous and inspiring group of international and local swimmers who came up with the idea of a never tried before cross the Dead Sea swim as a call for action.
What is our call?
We call on our governments to strike a fairer balance of interests that would result in stabilising the Dead Sea and maintaining its natural integrity. The mineral extraction industries need to be better regulated so that they invest in water saving technology and not as at present have an incentive to actually dry up the Dead Sea.
The natural life-blood of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River must have more water flowing again down its banks, replenishing both the river and its terminal lake the Dead Sea. Our ultimate goal is to bring back some 800 million cubic metres of water back into the dying Dead Sea – the volume that is needed in order to stabilise the Sea’s level. The Dead Sea Swim would be a first step in the road ahead in pursuit of this goal.
Why do we think we'll succeed?
Our experience shows that when like-minded people work together across borders, even in the midst of broader conflict, advances can be made. Our award winning Good Water Neighbours program has brought together thousands of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian adults and youth to seek solutions to shared water and sanitation problems across the region. These efforts encouraged local mayors to literally jump into the Jordan River together and has resulted in advance of the partial rehabilitation of the Jordan River. The Swim Challenge will harness similar efforts for the benefit of the Dead Sea.