EIN BOKEK, Israel (Reuters) – The Dead Sea is shrinking at the rate of about a meter a year, leaving behind deserted beaches and sinkholes in a slow-motion environmental disaster.
The main culprit is the drying up of the Jordan river, its main tributary, as communities upstream draw on it for farming and drinking. But mineral extraction makes the crisis worse – of the 700-800 million cubic meters of water lost each year, 250-350 million cubic meters is due to mining, Israel estimates.
Up to now, the Israeli government has rarely intervened in the operations of the biggest extractor: the Dead Sea Works, formerly state-owned and now operated under a 70-year concession by Israel Chemicals (ICL). That is about to change.
Israel wants to re-tender the Dead Sea mining concession as much as eight years ahead of schedule, in 2022. It is motivated not only by environmental concerns but also by worries ICL will hold off on new investments in the concession’s final years.
The government believes ICL will agree to its proposal, first because the firm will have the right of first refusal but also because it too has a powerful reason to scrap the current concession: an article that gives the government the rights to interfere in investments starting in 2020.