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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Middle East branch of the Friends of the Earth environmental organization warned on Sunday they would petition the ombudsman of the World Bank if it decided to go ahead with the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit without first examining other options.
The warning came as Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer met in Jordan with Jordanian and World Bank representatives to persuade potential donors to invest in the project, which is estimated to cost $5 billion.
The aim of the project is to run a conduit from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea for three purposes: generating electricity, increasing the amount of fresh water available through desalination and replenishing the dying Dead Sea.
However, Friends of the Earth has warned that the project could endanger the ecosystems of the Gulf of Aqaba, the Arava and the Dead Sea itself.
The worldwide organization has a chapter in the Middle East with offices in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Amman. The 35 employees of the chapter work together to solve transnational issues affecting at least two of the three entities.
The organization's Israel representative, Gidon Bromberg, charged Sunday that the World Bank had refused to order an independent study of the water management of the Jordan River by the governments which divert its waters.
The diversion, he said, had removed 95 percent of Jordan River water before it reached the Dead Sea compared to previous decades. At its peak, the Jordan River annually dumped 1.3 billion cubic meters of water into the Dead Sea. Today, the figure is 100 million cubic meters per year.
Friends of the Earth believe that if the governments allowed even less than half the maximum amount of water to continue flowing into the Dead Sea, it would be sufficient to save it.
Bromberg added that most of the water diverted from the Jordan River is used by farmers at a price heavily subsidized by their respective governments. This system has caused great wastage of water. For example, farmers cultivate tropical fruits such as mangos, bananas and avocado, which need excessively large amounts of water for this region.
The current system of water management has "turned the Jordan River, which is holy to half the world, into little more than a sewage canal," said Bromberg, adding that the World Bank has refused to allow an independent company to examine the management of the Jordan waters and has insisted that such studies be conducted by the governments of the countries responsible in the first place for diverting the waters.
"It's our own governments that are responsible for the dire state of the Dead Sea in the first place by taking away all the waters of the Jordan River which, since time immemorial, replenished the sea," said Bromberg. "Saving the Dead Sea by partially restoring the historical river flow seems to be what World Bank policies would dictate if they were only to follow their own guidelines."
According to the Friends of the Earth media statement, the "World Bank Operational Guideline OP 4.01 Annex B (f) requires that the Bank analyze alternatives to any proposed project, while OP 4.07 (2) (d) requires the bank to consider restoring and preserving aquatic ecosystems."
Bromberg said the organization would petition the World Bank Inspection Panel, a body whose job it is to make sure that the World Bank complies with its own directives.