SWEIMEH, Jordan – Regardless of the ongoing stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jordanian government official Saad Abu Hammour told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that environmental cooperation among the region’s players must continue to flourish.
“We shouldn’t miss the opportunities to improve the chances for peace among the three countries,” Abu Hammour, the secretary-general of the Jordan Valley Authority, said on the sidelines of a conference in Jordan on Tuesday.
A prominent figure in environmental collaborations among Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, Abu Hammour served as Jordan’s representative to December’s trilateral water negotiations, in which the parties agreed upon water swaps and funneling Red Sea brines to the shrinking Dead Sea.
On December 9, senior officials from the three governments met at the World Bank headquarters in Washington to sign a memorandum of understanding on the subject. A key component of the agreement is the development of an 80 million cubic meter desalination plant in Aqaba, from which Israel would be able to buy 50 to 60 percent of the water. Jordan would be able to buy an additional 50 million cubic meters of water from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) annually, roughly double the current allocation, and Israel would allow the direct sale of an additional 20 million cubic meters of water from the Mekorot national water company to the PA.
The understanding calls for a 200-kilometer pipeline to carry residual salt brines from the desalination process to the Dead Sea.
“This project is the first peace process project,” Abu Hammour said. “It is a water project; it’s not politics. It should not go to the level of politics.”
Abu Hammour spoke with the Post during Tuesday’s International Protecting Ground Water Conference, held on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, in the town of Swemieh. The conference took place under the framework of the cross-border “Protecting Groundwater” project, funded by the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument Cross-Border Cooperation in the Mediterranean and implemented by Friends of the Earth Middle East. Organized by FoEME, the conference occurred in partnership with ENPI-CBCMED, Diputacion de Malaga and Water and Environmental Development Organization, with financing from the European Union.
Abu Hammour is a mechanical and sanitary engineer by trade and has held related positions in the public and private sectors of Jordan for 31 years. He is also the Jordanian head of the Joint Water Committee between Israel, Jordan and the PA, which was established following the Oslo Accords.
Progressing with the trilateral water agreement is also particularly critical to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority due to the relative scarcity of water in each of these places, Abu Hammour explained.
“It’s very important for the people living in Palestine and Jordan to have water,” he said. “As a Jordanian, the only solution for us is to go for desalination.”
Leaders of FoEME and also of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies have long been advocating similar messages to that of Abu Hammour on trilateral water cooperation, stressing that solutions regarding shared natural resources cannot wait until the formulation of a final peace agreement.
As far as the 80 million cu.m. Aqaba desalination plant is concerned, Abu Hammour said that the Jordanian government is working with international consultants to prepare a build-operate-transfer tender for the facility. The tender should be finalized within a year-and-a-half, and the plant should be operating within five years, he added.
Ultimately, Jordan intends to increase its desalination capacity in the future, beyond the initial plant, according to Abu Hammour.
Regarding the 200-kilometer pipeline to carry the Red Sea brines to the Dead Sea, which would fall entirely within Jordanian territory, Abu Hammour said that government officials are actively seeking the necessary $350 million from a variety of countries.
“We are making great efforts to have a donors’ meeting with the three countries to ask for financing for the brine pipe,” he said. “There are a lot of countries that are interested in participating in financing this pipe.”
As the secretary-general of the Jordan Valley Authority, Abu Hammour is also directly involved in the Jordan River rehabilitation efforts. While Israel is already releasing water from the Kinneret into the depleted river to increase its flow, Jordan is not able to do so because of the country’s water scarcity situation, he explained.
Nonetheless, the Jordan Valley Authority has succeeded in constructing one sewage treatment facility in the northern part of the valley, and the government is working with NGOs and the Jordanian government to plan more, he said. In addition, relevant parties are considering establishing a national committee for environment and the Jordan River, Abu Hammour added.
“Many precious resources are lost due to the high pollution levels in the country,” he told conference attendees, in a presentation about the Jordan Valley region’s environmental status.
Just as he emphasized in his conversation with the Post, Abu Hammour stressed to audience members the importance of maintaining the process of extensive talks among the region’s nations on water issues. He described the existing relationship among environmental professionals in Israel, the PA and Jordan as nothing less than “progressive cooperation between countries.”