The Dead Sea is dying. There is little drinking water. Jordan faces climate crisis

When people here first saw the crater, they thought that a small asteroid had crashed into the salt-covered shores of the Dead Sea. Then others appeared.

One crater engulfed a residential building near the house. Another failure opened near a large house and forced the family to move.

Worried farmers looked around their fields and realized there would be no harvest. The fields are covered with holes and there is no way to harvest.

At some point, a piece of highway collapsed, disappearing into a crater several stories deep.

Finally, the residents of Ghor Haditha realized that the problem was literally under their feet, a symptom of the death of the Dead Sea and an alarming sign of the dry land that Jordan had become.

This small kingdom has long featured prominently on the list of countries with limited water resources. But a combination of soaring population growth, regional conflicts, mismanagement in industry and agriculture, and now climate change, could lead to the fact that this will be the first country to lose renewable sources of fresh water.

Funnels are a harbinger of the future in the Middle East, which is already teetering on dwindling resources. As the Dead Sea – actually a lake – shrinks at a rate of up to 2 meters per year, its salt water is replaced by fresh water, which rushes inward and dissolves underground salt layers, some of which are hundreds of meters below. Caverns form and the soil collapses into subsurface voids, forming funnels.

Over the past three decades, the Dead Sea level has dropped 31 meters. The rate of loss is increasing, and sinkholes are now in the thousands, like a rash spreading across the exposed seabed.

“When I was younger, the water reached this field,” said Hasan Kanazri, a 63-year-old tomato farmer, pointing to a spot about 300 meters from the water’s edge.

“We cannot use tractors here. The ground is too weak, so we had to plow by hand, ”he said.

The funnels are part of the greater danger, showing how Jordan’s constant thirst is getting worse. As a virtually landlocked desert kingdom with few resources, an annual decrease in rainfall in the country could lead to a 30% reduction in rainfall by 2100, according to Stanford University’s Jordan Water Project.

Jordan’s aquifers, ancient reservoirs of groundwater that take a long time to replenish, are being pumped at a breakneck speed, despite the pandemic increasing demand by 40%, according to the Ministry of Water Resources. And precarious finances mean that desalination, which serves some of Jordan’s wealthier neighbors, is – at the moment – too expensive an option.

“The situation here is bleak,” said Omar Salameh, a spokesman for the Ministry of Water Resources. “Without huge support for the implementation of development projects, Jordan does not have the resources to provide water.”

The water problem in Jordan is largely due to simple mathematics: in the 1950s, its population was half a million. More than 10 million now live in a country whose water supply, according to researchers, cannot provide a population in excess of 2 million.

This population explosion is not so much the result of the Jordanian birth rate as the country’s reputation as a so-called oasis of stability in an unstable area.

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