Spar erupts over proposed Red-Dead Sea pipeline
Project aims to save Dead Sea from environmental degradation; Public can submit comments on plan through March 15.
The Dead Sea Photo: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
A World Bank public hearing in Jerusalem about the Red Sea-Dead Sea conduit
project was filled to capacity on Tuesday, with hundreds crowded into a
conference room and sparring over the proposed 180-kilometer
The project’s objectives, as seen by the World Bank, are saving
the Dead Sea from environmental degradation, increasing affordable desalination
and hydro-power, and building peace among the three participating governments –
Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
In mid-January, the World
Bank released three detailed reports regarding this proposed conveyance of water
– a feasibility study, an environmental and social assessment, and a study of
strategic alternatives, drafted by different external authors.
Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom has repeatedly lauded the idea of
the Red-Dead conduit, Israel’s green groups and the Environmental Protection
Ministry have slammed the plan in its current form as destructive to the Dead
In the Red-Dead conception and planning process, the World Bank
serves as a neutral party and facilitator of funding, but it will not be
providing any project financing itself, Alexander McPhail, head of the World
Bank study program, explained on Tuesday.
Addressing the public at
Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim, McPhail presented an overview of the reports,
beginning with the feasibility study, on the effect of an annual conveyance of 2
billion cubic meters per year of water from Aqaba to the Dead Sea. Along the
all-Jordanian route would be a desalination plant, as well as two hydro-power
The project would be feasible from an engineering and economic
perspective, but there would be a large net consumption of energy, McPhail
The feasibility study determined that the project would not
hurt the Gulf of Aqaba’s coral reefs. As seawater and brine would mix into the
Dead Sea, unsightly gypsum would only likely form when water entrance reached
levels of 600 million-700 million cu.m. per year, McPhail
Presenting the environmental and social assessment, McPhail pointed
out certain environmental risks had been identified, but that most of these
adverse effects could be mitigated “by readily available and proven methods and
Looking at the study of alternatives, McPhail presented
its three most viable options – the first two being the Red-Dead project and a
Mediterranean Sea to Dead Sea transfer of water, respectively. The third option
is a combination of techniques, including desalination at Aqaba and at the
Mediterranean shore, importation of water from Turkey, and water recycling and
While this was a flexible approach that could respond to
technological advances and might not require upfront investment or big
sea-to-sea infrastructure, it would likely take 30 to 40 years to implement,
This alternative is favored by both Friends of the
Earth Middle East and Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense),
environmental groups that have expressed severe criticism of the Red-Dead Sea
An official from the Water Authority said, however, that
this combination option “is not a comprehensive alternative.”
Red and Mediterranean sea conveyance options were viable choices, explained
Doron Markel, head of Lake Kinneret monitoring and management at the Water
Authority, and a member of Israel’s Red-Dead steering
Dissecting the combination alternative, Markel said that only
a minuscule amount of the desalinated Mediterranean water would end up in the
Dead Sea, while the desalination in Aqaba would require the disposal of brine
into the Red Sea. In addition, the supply of water from Turkey “would oblige us
to rely on the goodwill of the third party,” he noted.
favored implementing a small pilot program, environmental groups argued that
this would serve little purpose, because if more than 400 million cu.m. of
seawater were to flow into the Dead Sea, the environmental risks would change
“It’s basically all or nothing,” Friends of the Earth
Israeli Director Gidon Bromberg said.
The project would also be
financially difficult, requiring an international gift of up to $4.5 billion as
well as a $2.6b. loan for Jordan, Bromberg said.
international community is not going to provide the money unless a treaty [in
which Israel recognizes the PA as an equal when it comes to natural resources]
is signed,” he said.
“We need to bring this out into the open, because we
want to be realistic. We want to stabilize the Dead Sea, we want to bring water,
and we want peace.”
While the authors of the environment and social
assessment said the project could be implemented without great impact, Sarit
Caspi, a water expert at Adam Teva V’Din, disagreed.
“We are drastically
changing the mineral composition of the Dead Sea,” Caspi said.
effect, we would be killing the Dead Sea and there would be a different body of
water composed of evaporated sea water where the Dead Sea once
Agreeing with the Friends of the Earth experts, Adam Teva V’Din
professionals deemed cost-benefit analyses generated thus far as
For example, the money generated by tourism may not be what
the planners expect, particularly after the Dead Sea’s mineral composition were
changed, the organization said.
For Jordan, however, going forward with
some sort of reliable water project is critical, as the country lacks natural
water supplies and is becoming increasingly thirsty, explained Saad Abu Hammour,
secretary-general of the Jordan Valley Authority and chairman of Jordan’s
Red-Dead steering committee.
“We in Jordan are very much interested in
having this project in place,” he said.
In a move not directly related to
this project, Jordan is planning a small desalination plant in Aqaba, Hammour
As Jordan has a large budget deficit, Hammour suggested beginning
with a smaller version of the Red-Dead conveyance project, until international
financing could be secured. In any case, moving ahead in some way is vital to
Jordan’s future, particularly since more than 1 million Syrians had moved to the
eastern portion of Jordan, he said.
“They are living in camps, but they
are consuming a lot of water,” Hammour added.
“They will put a lot of
pressure on our water resources.”
Whatever the region’s three governments
decide regarding the Red-Dead plan, McPhail explained, there would still be two
critical project elements whose outcomes were still unknown.
sure if we can raise the money. The economic condition of the world is a lot
different from when we did the studies,” he said.
“Also, we are not sure
what will happen when you get above 400 million cu.m. of sea water or brine into
the Dead Sea.”
Regarding the path toward peace, however, McPhail said
that thus far the World Bank had found that “at the technical level the
cooperation between the three governments has become exceptionally
Members of the public can continue to submit their comments
online, in English, Hebrew or Arabic, on the World Bank project website through
March 15, McPhail said.
“The three governments have not decided and we
are not involved in the decision-making,” he continued. “The space for debate and
discussion remains open.”