Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Israel and Jordan aim to revitalise the Dead Sea

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, September 27th 2016 à 09:54 | Read 2086 times

Designed to both resupply the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea and provide drinking water to the region's inhabitants through desalination, the "Peace Canal" should theoretically be operational in 2018.

The Peace canal will take place in 2018 (map : RR)
The Peace canal will take place in 2018 (map : RR)
ISRAEL / JORDAN. The "Peace Canal" will link the Dead Sea with the Red Sea. For the moment at least, it is mainly just filling newspaper columns.

A technical cooperation agreement between Jordan, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the French Development Agency (AFD) signed in May, 2016, opened the way for three studies to be carried out on the economic and financial implications and the environmental and social impact of the project. "The scheme is important to ensure a water supply for Jordan and the rest of the region, while at the same time preventing damage to the Dead Sea's environment," underlines EIB vice-president Dario Scannapieco.

It all started with an excellent idea: make use of the 417 metres' difference in elevation between the seas to bring water to the Dead Sea, whose name has never seemed so apposite. The latter's level is falling by around eight centimetres each month. It is clearly in need of a few glasses of Red to put it back on its feet.

It all ended with a slew of questions.

First of all, environmental: Alexandre Taithe, research officer at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS), sees it as merely "one more transfer scheme when in fact we should be working on water management"; the ONG Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) has raised the alarm over the influx from the Red Sea increasing the chances of degradation of the Dead Sea's waters.

But also social and economic, including the prohibitive cost of drinking water for the Jordanian and Palestinian populations. The biggest beneficiaries from the canal will be the private companies that obtain the contracts.

And lastly political, since the project will not resolve the issue of the Palestinians' right to water.

A total budget of $10bn.

This project totally overshadows the geopolitical situation. What greater symbol could there be in this turbulent region than that of Israel "donating" drinking water to its Jordanian and Palestinian neighbours? And indeed it's only fair, since the Dead Sea's falling level, unquestionably, is as much due to Israel's pumping of water from the Jordan River, the sea's main tributary, as it is to climate change. In February, 2015, the two countries signed the Seas Canal Agreement, one described as "historic" by the Israeli Energy Minister, and "the most important since the peace treaty with Jordan."

The project calls for a 200km-long pipeline that would suck water from the Red Sea like a giant straw and release it into the Dead Sea. A total of 200 million cubic metres would thus be pumped each year, of which 120 million would go into the Dead Sea and 80 million sent for desalination at a plant to be built at Aqaba, Jordan. The desalinated water would be distributed across Southern Jordan (65 million cubic metres) but also to Eilat in Israel's arid Arava region.

From 2070 onwards, this volume would be increased to 900 million cubic metres. Two hydro-electric power stations would also be "plugged" into the network.

In December, 2015, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan issued a call to tender for the project, valued at $1bn for the initial phase and $10bn in total. A steep bill that the World Bank has already agreed to cover in part. The chosen franchise holder will have twenty-five years to recoup the investment.

Work is scheduled to start in 2018.

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