On the Red Sea-Dead Sea Deal

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Shrinking of the Dead Sea Source: meddead.org/

Jordan and Israel recently signed an agreement on a World Bank sponsored desalination plant in the Gulf of Aqaba and a pipeline linking the Red Sea with the Dead Sea. The project aims to provide freshwater resources to the water scarce countries and at the same time act as a lifeline to the shrinking Dead Sea as a result of exploitation of the Jordan River that feeds into it. This project will try to counter this water loss by transferring over 300 million cubes of water, in addition to the brine produced by desalination, from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

The desalination plant will produce 80 million cubic meters of water, of which Israel will buy 40 million from Jordan. The plant is one of three water sharing initiatives that were agreed upon in December 2013 between Jordan, Palestine and Israel. The other initiatives were the release of more water from Lake Tiberais for use in Jordan, and the sale of about 20-30 million cubic meters of desalinated water to the Palestinian Water Authority.

Two separate models were carried out in an attempt to predict the impacts of such an endeavor on the two seas. The Red Sea model found that if water is extracted from the Eastern Intake, this will avoid any significant impacts on the water level or quality. The Dead Sea study concluded that mixing the Red Sea water and brine into the Dead Sea may have some negative impacts. The two main concerns are the frequency and magnitude of algal blooms and the whitening of the sea from gypsum. The report suggested that adding gypsum crystals at the location of the discharge could reduce the whitening.

Water has always been a sensitive issue in the region and particularly in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This project has been in the making for several decades and required a series of difficult negotiations between the countries involved. While many policy makers and bureaucrats believe the project will help enhance water supply many people do not share this opinion. Palestinian rights groups have complained over the lack of transparency when conducting the World Bank’s feasibility study and Environmental and Social Assessment study. They claim that concerns brought up by Palestinians over Israeli abuse and violations of water rights had been left out of consideration.

In October 2013, over 20 prominent Palestinian NGOs and individuals working in the environmental sector rejected the project and accused it of trying to “force the Palestinian population to consent to their own dispossession and to compromise on their own rights.”  These NGOs and individuals offered these five reasons why this project should not be implemented:

  1. They believe that the main reason for the shrinking of the Dead Sea is because Israel solely controls the water flow in the upper Jordan River. They assert that conveying water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and not addressing Israeli theft will maintain the unjust status quo.
  2. The project will replace the water from the Upper Jordan River with expensive desalinated water. This will particularly affect poorer Palestinians.
  3. None of the World Bank’s studies address the damage of the West Bank Easter Aquifer, the only water source for the Palestinians.
  4. The Unique features of the Dead Sea will be destroyed.
  5. The World Bank studies lack credibility and transparency.

In addition to the issues addressed above, the Global Nature Fund held many discussion panels with various stakeholders from Jordan, Palestine and Israel. During these discussions they found the following series of questions that need to be answered before moving forward:

  • What are the dangers of the water extraction to the coral reef of the Gulf Aqaba?
  • How will the construction of the 300-km pipeline affect the surrounding landscape?
  • How much gypsum will build up due to the mixing of the two waters?
  • How can the possible development of algae from mixing the waters be avoided?

A water agreement between an occupation force, the occupied population and a neighboring country will always be controversial.  Israel has consistently limited water supply for the Palestinians and this project does not address that, in fact, this deal gives the Israelis more control over Palestinian water supply. Palestinians was not party to the latest agreement and their only share from potable water produced from this project is through purchasing it from the Israelis. The project is supposed to provide fresh drinking water to the Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis. For Palestinians, this could be improved drastically by relinquishing the Israeli control of their water supply. This project was hailed as a positive initiative to promote peace but most Palestinians will not see it as such, but as another occupation tool.

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