The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Israel, Jordan pursue Dead Sea revival with Red Sea canal project Open in fullscreen

The New Arab & agencies

Israel, Jordan pursue Dead Sea revival with Red Sea canal project

Experts say water levels are falling one metre a year. [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 March, 2018

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Project talks were frozen last year after an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman, prompting a diplomatic standoff.

Israel and Jordan will pursue a common goal to stop the Dead Sea from shrinking, after a recent diplomatic spat stalled the ambitious project.

The degradation of the Dead Sea, on the border of Israel, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian West Bank, began in the 1960s when water began to be heavily diverted from the Jordan River.

"Since 1950, the amount flowing in the Jordan has dropped from 1.2 billion cubic metres per year to less than 200 million," said Frederic Maurel, an engineering expert at the French development agency AFD.

Heavy production of potash, used to make fertiliser, has also accelerated evaporation that has seen the sea's surface area shrink by a third since 1960.

Experts say water levels are falling one metre a year, and warn it could dry out completely within 30 years.

"Before 1967, the water was just a 10-minute walk from my house," said Musa Salim al-Athem, a farmer who grows tomatoes on the banks on the Jordan side.

Experts say water levels are falling one metre a year, and warn it could dry out completely within 30 years

"Now it takes an hour," he said, standing amid the resulting lunar landscape of spectacular salt sculptures, gaping sinkholes and craters. "Only the sea can fill up the sea."

'Invaluable treasure'

After years of studies, the $1.1 billion Red Sea "Peace Conduit" deal was signed by Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities in 2013.

The project - located entirely on Jordanian territory - includes a desalination plant near Aqaba.

After producing drinking water, the remaining highly saline liquid will be sent by pipeline to fill the Dead Sea, powering two hydroelectric plants along the way.

A subsequent 2015 deal would see Israel get 35 billion cubic metres of potable water from the desalination plant for its parched southern regions.

The mostly desert Jordan, for its part, would get up to 50 billion cubic metres of freshwater from the Sea of Galilee.

Talks were frozen last year after an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman, prompting a diplomatic standoff that ended only in January

Israel also agreed to sell 32 billion cubic metres to the Palestinian Authority.

Jordan announced in November 2016 that it had chosen five international consortiums to build the first phase of the canal.

But talks on how to finance the deal, which calls for $400 million of public funding, and geopolitical flare-ups have kept the project from moving forward.

The sea's natural beauty and mineral-rich black mud have also provided a source of tourism revenue.

"The Dead Sea has historical, biblical, natural, touristic, medical and industrial values that make it an invaluable cultural, environmental and economic treasure," said Avner Adin, a specialist in water science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

'Diplomatic hazards'

Some $120 million has already been pledged by donors including the US and Japan, while France's AFD agency has secured the backing of the EU and some member states for $140 million in preferential loans to Jordan.

Talks were frozen last year after an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman, prompting a diplomatic standoff that ended only in January.

"We have never been so close to starting the project," engineering expert Maurel said. "It only needs a final push by the Jordanian and Israeli authorities."

A diplomatic source in Amman said the project remained essential for the region given the environmental and economic stakes, "but it's still at the mercy of diplomatic hazards".

For Adin at the Hebrew University, "It seems to be that the situation is improving. The main obstacle in my mind could be financial."

Officials in Jordan say they are determined to press ahead, with or without Israel, to cope with the needs of a rising population which has been swelled by about one million refugees fleeing the war in neighbouring Syria.

"We are proceeding with the project because desalination eventually is the future of Jordan when it comes to water," said Iyad Dahiyat, secretary general of the country's water authority.

"Water is part of the stability of the kingdom itself," he added. "It's a national security issue."

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More