The Kingdom of Jordan intends to sell Israel water produced by a future
Jordanian desalination plant, in return for the ability to purchase an increased
amount of fresh water from Israel's Kinneret reservoir, Prime Minister Abdullah
Ensour declared on Monday.
Ensour made the announcement at a press
conference regarding the launch of the first phase of the Red Sea-Dead Sea
Conduit project, which would consist of a desalination plant that is at least
100 million cu.m. in capacity. As part of an agreement with Israel, Jordan would
sell its neighbor the desalinated water at 1 Dinar (NIS 5) per cubic meter and
would purchase the Kinneret water at 0.3 Dinar (NIS 1.5) per cubic meter, Ensour
Such a move would be ideal for Jordan because transferring the
brunt of the water from the desalination plant near Aqaba to the country's water
starved north would be much more expensive than embarking upon this plan, the
prime minister stressed.
The $980 million desalination plant, slated to
be situated in Jordan's south near Al-Risha, will draw water from the Red Sea's
Gulf of Aqaba, Ensour explained. Once desalinated, the fresh water will once
again return further south toward the city of Aqaba. A portion of the
desalinated water as well as an additional 20 million cu.m. from the Al-Wehda
Dam on the Jordanian-Syrian border has thus far been allocated for the
country's densely populated northern governorates, Ensour said. The prime
minister, however, is advocating the water swap with Israel in order to curb the
costs associated with transferring the desalinated water to his nation's north.
It is unclear whether he intends for the swap to occur in addition to or
entirely instead of desalination transports to the north.
Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit project has been highly controversial among Israelis
and Jordanians in Israel mainly due to environmental concerns and in Jordan
mainly due to the extremely expensive cost of the project.
As the Dead
Sea's water level has been declining at a rate of more than a meter per year,
the project aims to save the sea from environmental degradation while
desalinating water and generating hydroelectricity at affordable prices, a World
Bank feasibility study said.
According to project plans, an eastern
intake site for sea water would be submerged off the coast of Aqaba, from which
a combination of 180 km. worth of tunneling and pipelines would extend to the
Dead Sea, with a desalination plant and two hydropower plants along the way
all on Jordanian land. Plans had originally called for the desalination plant to
have a capacity of 320 million cu.m., rising to 850 million cu.m. by 2060
Although the World Bank feasibility study released in
January does overall deem the project to be possible as well as
environmentally sound with some preventative measures, other World Bank
assessments offered more severe warnings. One concern among experts includes the
risk that the influx of seawater and brine into the Dead Sea will change both
the appearance and quality of the water, and could negatively impact the
region's ecology and hydrogeology. In addition, the report warned of the
significant presence of nonrenewable energy that would be required to power the
Nonetheless, Water, Irrigation and Agriculture
Minister Hazem Nasser described the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit project as a
national program in Jordan's strategic interest, which the kingdom has "no
choice" but to implement due to overall water scarcity. Meanwhile, Jordan's
water shortage increases by 7 percent annually, Nasser added.
generated by the desalination plant would be sold to citizens at rates lower
than water generated by the recently launched Disi Aquifer project, which now
supplies Amman with an additional 100 million cu.m. of water from an ancient
As far as the trade with Israel is concerned, Nasser explained
that the two countries would not need to sign any new agreement, as the peace
agreement of 1994 mandates that Israel sell to Jordan no less than 50 million
cu.m. of water per year, an amount that can be redetermined. Currently, Israel
provides Jordan with about 55 million cu.m. of water from Lake Kinneret each
year, Nasser said.
In response to a query about the matter from The
Jerusalem Post, Israeli Water Authority Spokesman Uri Schor said that "there are
ongoing discussions all of time between the Jordanian and Israeli professional
bodies, according to the peace agreement and the relationship between the two
"Exchanges of ideas, requests and other things are taking place not
through the press," Schor added.
Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director for the
regional environmental organization Friends of the Earth Middle East, said that
while his organization praises cross-border cooperation on and commerce of
water, this is not the ideal path to take.
"FoEME welcomes creative ideas
of water trade between Jordan and Israel and sees the potential environmental,
economic and political benefits of exploring these options if done in a
transparent manner," Bromberg told the Post.
"Linking trade in water
Aqaba to Eilat and Kinneret to Amman with the Red-Dead project however makes
no sense." Bromberg pointed specifically to one of the World Bank's secondary
studies the Study of Alternatives which demonstrates how the Red Sea-Dead
Sea Conduit could cause serious environmental ramifications. Instead, his
organization champions a partial restoration of the Jordan River, another
solution toward rehabilitating the Dead Sea discussed in the Study of
"Over a decade has been lost and tens of millions of
dollars spent on the Red-Dead proposal with nothing but poor results
environmental and economic," Bromberg said. "The public needs to call on our
governments to move on, to deal with the root causes of the demise of the Dead
Sea: charging the mineral extraction industry for the water they pump out of the
Dead Sea and partially restoring the Jordan River."
Dotan Shaniv and Ariel Ben
Solomon contributed to this report.