While there may be environmental and social impacts on the region, a trilateral
plan to construct a 180-kilometer pipeline transporting water from the Red Sea
to the Dead Sea is feasible, a World Bank study has determined.
nearly a decade of pondering the project in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian
Authority, the World Bank recently released its final draft version of its Red
Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Program: Feasibility Study.
as part of a series of studies, the World Bank printed the report alongside an
environmental and social assessment study and a study of strategic alternatives,
as well as various other studies and models of the Dead and Red seas – all done
simultaneously, but conducted by different companies.
The main objectives
of building a water conduit from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea would be saving the
latter from environmental degradation, desalinating water, generating
hydroelectricity at affordable prices and generating “a symbol of peace in the
Middle East,” according to the feasibility study.
The Dead Sea water
level has been declining at a rate of more than a meter per year, with its
surface area shrinking from 960 square kilometers to 620 sq. km. in the past 50
years, the report said.
The severe losses in the Dead Sea’s volume are in
large part due to the progressive decline of the Jordan River flow due to
upstream diversion by Israel, Jordan and Syria.
Influx of water into the
sea has dwindled from 1,250 million cubic meters per year in 1950 to around 260
million cu.m. per year in 2010, the report said. Meanwhile, there are less than
10 centimeters of rainfall in the area each year, with peak temperatures in the
summer exceeding 45 degrees Celsius.
The feasibility study looked at
three scenarios – a “no project” situation, a base case scenario to stabilize
the Dead Sea, and a base case plus scenario that also includes desalination and
As the Dead Sea continues to decline, the
report cited many benefits of going ahead with the project. With increased water
influx, the project would gradually diminish the basin’s sinkholes, as well as
restore water to the groundwater table and curb the infrastructural erosion that
has been plaguing the region.
In addition, the project would be able to
reverse the decline in tourism that has been correlated to the plummeting level
of the Dead Sea, the study said.
After examining all the alternatives,
the feasibility study settled on the “base case plus scenario” as the best plan.
The option would entail the lowest installed cost and far less onerous
engineering, though it would involve higher net energy demands and generate a
larger carbon footprint, the study said.
According to this plan, an
eastern intake site would be submerged off the coast of Aqaba in Jordan at the
site of an old thermal power station.
A combination of 180
worth of tunneling and pipelines would extend from this point to the
Dead Sea, with stops along the way for a tremendous desalination plant and two
The desalination plant would have a capacity of 320
million cu.m. per year at startup, rising to 850 million cu.m. per year by 2060.
It would require 247 MW of power in 2020, and 556 MW in 2060.
estimated total cost of the project is $9.97 billion, the study concluded that
it is economically feasible, and direct economic benefits exceed the costs by some $1b.
The greatest risk posed by the Red-Dead
pipeline would be the leakage of seawater into valuable groundwater, and
appropriate engineering solutions must be incorporated to minimize the risk, the
Examining the potential impacts of the project on the Red
Sea, the study concludes that damage to benthic habitats, in the ecological
region at the lowest level of the sea, can be minimized, as can disruption to
coral reefs, by planting the intake site 90 meters deep or more.
Dead Sea region, the study predicted a change in chemical composition as well as
a rise in gypsum growth, potentially causing increased whitening in the surface
While Dead Sea salinity would probably decrease from the current
1.24 grams per liter to 1.17 gr. per liter, this would likely not be a large
enough drop to cause increased red algae blooms, the study said.
the feasibility study may have identified the pipeline plan as the best
solution, the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Environmental and Social
Assessment published along side it highlighted many more risks.
the biggest concerns expressed in the assessment is “the risk that the influx of
seawater and reject brine into the Dead Sea will cause changes to the appearance
and water quality such that its value as a heritage site of international
importance will be damaged.”
There would also be a major impact on the
Dead Sea’s appearance and integrity, as well as the 48 archeological sites along
Socioeconomic concerns would arise as residents protest the
route and as labor accidents occur, and the appearance of the region’s landscape
would be affected by the new desalination and hydropower plants. Other negative
effects would include damage to the region’s ecology and hydrogeology, as well
as the significant presence of nonrenewable energy resources generated in the
region, according to the assessment.
In the other publication that was
printed alongside the feasibility study – a report centered on alternatives to
the Red-Dead pipeline – the authors focused on all options that would save the
Dead Sea from environmental degradation, desalinate water, generate affordable
energy and build a symbol of peace for the Middle East, the report
One of the alternatives presented is a “Lower Jordan River Option,”
with either full or partial restoration of historic Lower Jordan River flow
levels using recycled water.
A second choice is a “Water Transfer
Option,” involving the transfer of water from either the Mediterranean Sea, from
Turkey or from the Euphrates River basin. The “Desalination Option” suggests
several desalination options rooted in the Mediterranean or Red Sea waters,
while a “Technical and Water Conservation Option” proposes changes in technology
used by the Dead Sea chemical industry and increased conservation in the Lower
Aside from the Red-Dead pipeline, the report found that the
Mediterranean Sea- Dead Sea conveyance would be the best option from cost
standpoint, but also not without environmental and social impacts. Another
option would be a combination of desalination at Aqaba and at the Mediterranean
Sea, with water importation from Turkey as well as water recycling and
conservation, according to the report.
In response to the feasibility
study’s unveiling, Development of the Negev and Galilee and Regional Cooperation
Minister Silvan Shalom praised the World Bank’s determinations.
cooperation will benefit all sides given the existing deficiencies in the area,
and this will lead particularly to the salvation of the wonder of the world that
is the Dead Sea,” Shalom said. “The World Bank and donor countries believe in
the ability to realize cooperation from this activity.
From here on we
will harness the influential bodies in order to ensure that the project will
implemented in reality.”
Cross-border environmental organization Friends
of the Earth Middle East, however, called the World Bank “irresponsible,”
slamming the idea that a Red-Dead conduit was environmentally and economically
“If this project were to go forward, the real beneficiaries
would be Israeli business tycoons associated with the building of the largest
desalination plant in the world, and foreign pipeline construction companies,”
said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of FOEME. “The public would be the ones to
foot the bill, twice over – once, in unaffordable water prices, and again, in
the further demise of the environment.”
The group pointed out that the
report warms of gypsum formations as well as the possibility of polluting the
groundwater and the leap in energy usage.
While the report deemed the
project economically feasible, it failed to point out that the $2.6b. of private
sector funds required would be dependent on receiving $5b.
international grants and $2.5b. raised by Jordan for water infrastructure costs,
according to FOEME.
“The study seems to forget that there is a global
economic crisis, that Jordan is on the verge of bankruptcy, and that Israel is
heavily in the red. The study also ignores the fact that a cubic meter of water
from this project would cost up to $2.7b. in Jordan; an impossible expense for
Jordanians to pay, that will lead to riots in the streets,” said Munqeth Mehyar,
Jordanian director of FOEME.
“Similarly, for Israelis and Palestinians,
the water from this project will cost $1.8 per cubic meter, more than triple the
cost of desalination at the Mediterranean,” he said.
In November, the
Jordanian Water and Irrigation Ministry announced that due to financial
obstacles and feasibility concerns, the country would be downsizing its
participation in the potential project, The Jordan Times reported at the time.
The ministry said the country would now be initially desalinating only about a
quarter of what it had original planned, according to the Jordanian
Nader Khateeb, Palestinian director of FOEME, deemed the 10
years of research that the World Bank put into studying the Red-Dead idea as
“wasted” time. During that period, international attention should have been
devoted to the “root cause of the problem and the real reason for the shrinking
of the sea – the diversion of the Jordan River flow and the unlimited use of
Dead Sea waters by the mineral industries,” Khateeb explained.
alternative study demonstrates that there are indeed other options that can help
stabilize the Dead Sea and provide more water to the region while promoting
regional cooperation – including a plan combined with Jordan River
rehabilitation that would require Israeli Dead Sea Works and the Jordanian Arab
Potash to pay for the water they extract, FOEME said.
“The bottom line is
that the bank doesn’t have an opinion yet,” Bromberg told The Jerusalem Post
“The bank is presenting three different studies written by three different