Jordan: The Dead Sea may soon shrink to a lifeless pond as Middle East political strife blocks vital measures needed to halt the decay of the world`s lowest and saltiest body of water, experts say.
The surface level is plunging by a metre (three feet) a year and nothing has yet been done to reverse the decline because of a lack of political cooperation as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The shoreline has receded by more than a kilometre (around a mile) in some places and the world-famous lake, a key tourism destination renowned for the beneficial effect of its minerals, could dry out by 2050, according to some calculations.
"It might be confined into a small pond. It is likely to happen and this is extremely serious. Nobody is doing anything now to save it," said water expert Dureid Mahasneh, a former Jordan Valley Authority chief.
"Saving the Dead Sea is a regional issue, and if you take the heritage, environmental and historical importance, or even the geographical importance, it is an international issue."
Landlocked between Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, the Dead Sea is rapidly vanishing because water which previously flowed into the lake is being diverted and also extracted to service industry and agriculture.
Jordan decided in September to go it alone and build a two-billion-dollar pipeline from the Red Sea to start refilling the Dead Sea without help from proposed partners Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
However, that project is controversial and Mahasneh stressed that Jordan alone is not capable of solving the Dead Sea`s problems.
The degradation began in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan and Syria began to divert water from the Jordan River, the Dead Sea`s main supplier.
For decades, the three neighbouring countries have taken around 95 percent of the river`s flow for agricultural and industrial use. Israel alone diverts more than 60 percent of the river.
The impact on the Dead Sea has been compounded by a drop in groundwater levels as rain water from surrounding mountains dissolved salt deposits that had previously plugged access to underground caverns.
Industrial operations around the shores of the lake also contribute to its problems.