Sinkholes in receding Dead Sea wreak havoc on local communities

In better times, Mineral Beach along the Dead Sea accounted for 80 per cent of the economy for the local kibbutz. But now, it's the latest casualty of a phenomenon wreaking havoc along this coast.

Sinkholes there are swallowing up cars, cafes, entire buildings, even sewage and power lines -- taking a toll on residents.

Avi, a resident of Kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, said: "In the last half year that Mineral beach was closed, we had some tragedy in the community. The economy effect and the community effect". The Dead Sea is shrinking at an alarming rate, largely because of water diverted for agriculture and mining.

As the water recedes, hundreds of sinkholes devour the land where the shoreline once stood. Some are the size of a basketball court. Others, two stories deep.

Mr Guy Dunenfeld,  head engineer for the local council, said: "We are standing in the closed resort of Ein Gedi. It used to be a very live-full (lively) place filled with bungalows and tents for tourists and you can see all around you it's completely gone."

The groves of date trees that lined the community are neglected. The workers who tended them stopped coming, afraid the earth might swallow them up.

The community built a new road to bypass one of the larger sinkholes but relocating infrastructure is a temporary solution. The problem will only stop when the sea is rehabilitated.

Mr Dov Litvinoff, mayor of the Tamar region that covers the Southern half of the dead sea in Israel, said:  "We are facing a lot of problems that we cannot face alone, we cannot treat alone, we need the support of the government on these issues."

What's really needed is an international effort since the Dead Sea also borders Jordan and the West Bank. The World Bank wants to pump brine from the Red Sea into the Dead Sea but environmental groups call that a drop in the bucket.