(FoxNews.com) — In summer, the average temperature in Jordan is 100 degrees and more than 25 percent of the country is under water. The result has been devastating for the country: the tourist industry has slumped, real estate values have declined and governments are having to deal with a backlog of unpaid pensions and severance payments for thousands of its citizens.
The issue is vital to the government: 97,000 workers are employed in the industry. Unless tourists return, the government has warned that unemployment rates could hit 30 percent.
Preston Heintz said his company visited the Dead Sea in 2016 and found three-year-old water temperatures had dropped to 67 degrees. “It was 100 degrees when we first started our boat tour in 1999. When we left in 2004 there was nothing there.”
Since then, Jordan’s military has been searching the underwater hills and islands for mines and dangerous materials. But otherwise, the situation remains the same — diving boat tours have been cancelled, private boat rental and hotel beds have been lost and the country is bracing for a potential recession.
Hisham Kalantar, the senior adviser to Prime Minister Omar Razzaz on the Dead Sea, said the government is now looking for alternative strategies.
“We’re not giving up, just as (U.S. President Donald) Trump is not giving up on us. The Dead Sea will come back. We will see to it that it will come back. The time for dreaming about it is over,” he said.
The dead sea’s slow death is partly due to global warming and pollution. Living on the sea bed, the oxygen has been depleted and the air less clean. Some farmers have begun extracting sand from the sea bed and have turned it into suntan lotion for beaches in Bahrain.
Today, a 2.5-hour journey by boat takes tourists to the sea’s edge, within sight of the world’s lowest point — 43-feet of water with a barren coastline.
Cuba claims to have the lowest recorded land water level, but its shallow coastline has quickly absorbed many of the fish that used to use the Dead Sea’s waters as a spawning ground.
Shalom Bahsous, a Jordanian environmentalist, said the government must now resolve an outstanding backlog of unpaid former employees.
“We need to do all we can to help the industry to come back, to rebuild it,” he said.
He also warned Jordan will eventually pay the price of its crippling economics and pollution problems.
“I am sure in the near future it will cost them and they have to pay, and when it happens I think Jordan will regret, so I am speaking of the future because we have no control over what’s happening in the world.
“But we can decide to change, and if we just wish for a holiday, we can still choose that, but if we want to build, if we want to live for a living, if we want to be a participant in the world instead of a spectator, if we want to be a neighbor not a stranger, then we need to stop and think in a different direction.”
The U.S. Embassy in Amman said in a statement the United States “stands ready to assist Jordan in any way we can to help it stabilize the financial and social repercussions of its own alarming decline in tourism.”
Yousef El-Husseini is a Fox News Business Network contributor and former Secretary General of the Jordanian Tourism Organisation.