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Collapsed: A neglected grove of date palms line a section of a two-lane desert road - a main north-south artery that cuts through Israel and the Palestinian West Bank - that was shut down six months ago when a gaping hole opened up beneath the asphalt
Roads, caravans and power lines are being swallowed up by giant sinkholes appearing at a rapid rate because the Dead Sea is shrinking from Israeli shores in a man-made phenomenon.

Hundreds of sinkholes, some the size of a basketball court and some two storeys deep, are wreaking havoc by devouring land where the shoreline once stood.

Waters are vanishing at a rate of more than one metre a year and the problem is set to get worse without action on an international scale.

A neglected grove of date palms line a section of a two-lane desert road - a main north-south artery that cuts through Israel and the Palestinian West Bank - that was shut down six months ago when a gaping hole opened up beneath the asphalt.

Workers had stopped tending the date grove, fearing the earth might swallow them up.
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Worrying phenomenon: Hundreds of sinkholes, some the size of a basketball court and some two storeys deep, are wreaking havoc by devouring land where the Israeli shoreline once stood. It is happening because the Dead Sea is shrinking at a rapid rate

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Ongoing problem: Once a rarity, hundreds of new sinkholes are appearing every year, and the rate is expected to rise. Officials have not come up with a figure for the extent of the damage, but power lines have been downed and caravans and bungalows swallowed
Once a rarity, hundreds of new sinkholes are appearing every year, and the rate is expected to rise.

Officials have not come up with a figure for the extent of the damage, but power lines have been downed and caravans and bungalows swallowed.

On at least one occasion, hikers were injured falling into one of the pits.

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Disappearing from view: Roads, caravans and power lines are being swallowed up by giant sinkholes appearing at a rapid rate in Israel
Dov Litvinoff, mayor of the Tamar region that covers the southern half of the Dead Sea in Israel, said: 'It's not a problem we can handle alone.'

The main reason the sea is shrinking is because its natural water sources, which flow south through the Jordan river valley from Syria and Lebanon, have been diverted for farming and drinking water along the way.

Mining operations account for the remaining 30 per cent of the deterioration, according to Israel's parliamentary research group.

Relocating infrastructure is a temporary solution, the mayor said.

The sinkholes will only stop when the waters of the Dead Sea are restored, and that requires an international initiative, since it also borders Jordan and the West Bank.

Even with everyone on board, he said, it would take decades to reverse the ecological damage to the ancient salt lake, which sits more than 400 metres below sea level, the lowest point on dry land, a basin baking in the blazing heat.

The World Bank is promoting a much-discussed project to desalinate waters from the Red Sea to pump the brine by-product into the Dead Sea, but it is unclear whether the project will take off, and environmental groups say it would represent a drop in a bucket.