Shrinking Dead Sea may lose "natural wonders" bid

Thu Mar 19, 2009 7:48am EDT
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By Douglas Hamilton

JERICHO, West Bank (Reuters) - A red light flashes over the Dead Sea entry on a website inviting people to vote for the world's top natural wonders, warning: "this nominee is situated in more than one country."

There is no rule against that, but a chance the shrinking sea can win any votes in the election at will vanish if all three countries involved do not each form an "Official Supporting Committee" by July 7.

Either due to bureaucracy or politics, two states are delaying -- which may jeopardize prospects for the famously buoyant lake, about the same size as Lake Geneva, whose level is dropping at nearly one meter a year.

To date, only Israel has a committee. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have just over three months to make sure the Dead Sea is one of 77 second-round nominees selected, from which a shortlist of 21 finalists will be chosen.

"We're not sure why there's a delay," said Tia Viering, the communications chief for the contest, known as N7W. "The Dead Sea would have a very good chance if nominated, but we can't talk to a lake, and time is running out."

Jordan benefited handsomely from an election in 2007 of seven New Wonders of the World: visits to the ancient ruins of nearby Petra rose by more than 100 percent after it was chosen, said Suleiman Farajat of the Jordanian archaeological park.

Israeli organizer Seffi Hanegbi has no doubts about the reason for delay. "It's 100 percent politics," he said. "We have to have a meeting of the three official representatives. But if the Palestinians know there's a representative from Israel they won't come," he fears.

"It was a mistake to seek official approval at government level. Mayors or NGOs would have had it done by now," he said. It was also a mistake to involve an Israeli council located in the occupied West Bank, and covering Jewish settlements considered illegal by the Palestinians and the United Nations.   Continued...

<p>A tourist sits on a chair in the Dead Sea March 17, 2009. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside</p>