Posted by: EcoPeace Middle East | August 14, 2012

A Biosphere Reserve to protect the Dead Sea unique heritage?

Dead Sea Shoreline

Biosphere Reserves are sites established by countries and recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science. They are places that seek to reconcile conservation of biological and cultural diversity and economic and social development through partnerships between people and nature, with cooperation from local to international scales. Currently, there are 598 Biosphere Reserves in 117 countries , and new sites are added every year. Would the Dead Sea join them someday?

Some well known facts about the Dead Sea – restated here to refresh anyone’s memory… Lying in the heart of the Syrian-African rift valley at the southern outlet of the Jordan River, the Dead Sea region is internationally known for its unique geographical, biological, and historical characteristics. It is the lowest point on earth and world’s saltiest large water body. The Basin’s historical features include Jesus’s baptism site, Masada, and Mt. Nebo, among many, many others.

Despite the lack of wildlife in the Dead Sea itself, the region around it is blessed with unique flora and fauna, including endangered species such as ibex, leopards, and hyrax. The wetlands surrounding the Sea support several species such as the indigenous “Dead Sea Sparrow”, and serve as important resting and breeding sites for millions of migratory birds crossing between Europe and Africa each year. Together with its ecological interest, the Dead Sea is rich in a wide variety of minerals, making it an attraction for millions of visitors wishing to enjoy the therapeutic qualities of its water.

However, the Dead Sea basin is being degraded and seriously threatened by unsustainable economic development and water-source diversions. This has led to an alarming drop of its level, land deterioration with the formation of sink holes along the shoreline, water pollution and destruction of sensitive ecological habitats.

For years, FoEME has raised awareness about the extreme degradation of the basin, and has been calling for the need to create a comprehensive integrated regional development plan for the entire Dead Sea region. In 2000, FoEME took the position to support the establishment of the Dead Sea basin as a Transboundary Biosphere Reserve: a project presented in a concept document, “Let the Dead Sea live”. FoEME believes that registration of the Dead Sea Basin as a Biosphere Reserve would result in its international recognition as an important site in need of protection, and would provide an ideal framework for regional cooperation in order to protect and promote the sustainable use of its resources.

Dead Sea Sunset

Following the progressive zoning scheme of the Biosphere Reserves, the proposed project encompasses the whole Dead Sea basin, and suggests to divide it into an Inner Biosphere, where no new development would be allowed, and an Outer Biosphere, encompassing existing development and industries, where appropriate sustainable development would be permitted. In addition, 8 core protection areas have been identified, to insure the preservation of the most unique ecosystems of the basin. Among them is Wadi Mujib, a Jordanian nature reserve extending along the Eastern shores of the Dead Sea, which has already become a Biosphere Reserve in 2011.

On the Israeli side, municipalities situated near the Dead Sea have become fully aware of the challenges facing the Dead Sea, and are now willing to take a step to protect their unique cultural and environmental heritage. FoEME is supporting this move at a national level.

Facing the  soon-to-be-released feasibility studies being undertaken by the World Bank in the context of the “Red Dead Conduit” – an extremely high risk project for the fragile environment of the Dead Sea Basin – FoEME is advocating for alternative solutions to revive the Dead Sea and insure the water’s needs of Israel, Jordan and Palestine are covered. The rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River, combined with the inscription of the Dead Sea Basin as a Biosphere Reserve, is an option that deserves to be fully considered by the authorities.

A Transboundary Biosphere Reserve would also be a great opportunity to foster dialogue and integrated management of natural resource use between the three parties, contributing in advancing peace in the region.

This post was written by FoEME intern Amélie Joseph. Amélie is based in FoEME’s Tel Aviv Office.

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