February 2, 2006 – DEAD SEA – Declared Threatened Lake of the Year, 2006

WORLD WETLANDS DAY – February 2, 2006

The Middle East’s most famous lake, the Dead Sea, is dying

February 2, 2006

Every year on the occasion of World Wetlands Day, the Global Nature Fund (GNF), an international foundation for the protection of environment and nature, highlights the threatened state of a unique lake to the world. In 2006 GNF has declared the Dead Sea situated in the Middle East as the “Threatened Lake of the Year.” GNF together with its local partner EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) throughout the year 2006 will focus attention on the dramatic decline of the Dead Sea, the demise of its ecology, the loss of its tourist potential and the need to reverse the situation.

The Dead Sea lies in the heart of the Great Rift Valley at the southern outlet of the Jordan River. It is the world’s saltiest large water body, and is situated at the lowest point on earth. The Dead Sea region is internationally known for its unique geographical form, desert wilderness, and historical sites that include Jesus’s baptism, Masada, and Mt. Nebo. The lake attracts tourists worldwide who bathe in its waters for its unique medicinal qualities.

The Dead Sea has already lost over 1/3 of its surface area. The shoreline is expected to drop from -413 meters to -430 meters by the year 2020. Construction of dams, storage reservoirs, canals and pumping stations have greatly reduced water inflows to the Dead Sea. While some of this water is being used by the Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians for basic domestic consumption, most goes towards highly subsidized and inefficient agriculture.

“Despite its fame and uniqueness to the world, the Dead Sea is drying up fast” said Mr. Munqeth Mehyar, the Jordanian Chair of FoEME. “The Dead Sea which is actually a lake is dropping by a meter per year mostly due to the diversion of the waters of the Jordan River that had naturally fed the lake” he continued.

The GNF partner organization FoEME is leading an advocacy campaign in Israel, Jordan and Palestine to register the Dead Sea as a World Heritage site and is calling on the local governments to release enough water down the Jordan River to prevent the continued demise of the Dead Sea.

“The Dead Sea and its surrounding ecosystems including the unique wetlands are of international value while at the same time under massive human pressure.” said Marion Hammerl, President of the GNF. “With the declaration as ‘Threatened Lake of the Year’ we want to draw attention to the need to rehabilitate and conserve one of the world’s most famous lakes”.

To save the Dead Sea the governments of Israel and Jordan proposed the building of a canal linking the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. This plan raises many environmental questions about the impact of pumping water out of the Gulf of Aqaba on the coral reefs or the threat of gypsum, and other problems from the mixing of Dead Sea brime with marine water. FoEME is presently undertaking an independent environmental assessment of the proposed canal project.

You are invited to attend A SITE TOUR OF THE DEAD SEA, on Wednesday, February 22, led by Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East. The tour will include seeing the sinkholes, the receding water line, and the Dead Sea Works Industry. If you are interested in attending, please contact Mira Edelstein (details below).

The Global Nature Fund coordinates the international Living Lakes Network that includes 40 member lakes and wetlands worldwide. EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East is the GNF partner organization at the Dead Sea. Living Lakes is supported by corporates such as Unilever, Deutsche Lufthansa, T-Mobile, DaimlerChrysler, SIKA, Kהrcher and Ziemann.

GNF’s effort is essential to bring international attention to the issue within the framework of the World Wetlands Day, which takes place on the 2nd of February 2006. The day commemorates the signing of the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands in Iran in 1971. Former Threatened Lakes of the Year were Lake Chapala, Mexico in 2004 and Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, in the year 2005.

Contact details
Global Nature Fund (GNF)
Stefan Hצrmann (Project Manager), Fritz-Reichle-Ring 4, 78315 Radolfzell, Germany
Tel: +49 – 77 32 – 99 95 – 84; Fax: +49 – 77 32 – 99 95 – 88, Mobil: +49-0-160-53210-52
E-Mail: hoermann@globalnature.org, Website: www.globalnature.org, www.livinglakes.org

Friends of the Earth Middle East:
Tel-Aviv Office: 85 Nahalat Binyamin St, Tel-Aviv, Israel
Contact Mira Edelstein (Foreign Media Officer)
Office +972-3-5605383 ext 3
Mobile +972-54-6392937
Email: mira@ecopeaceme.org, Website: www.ecopeaceme.org