Earlier this week, Michael Green wrote about Shimon Peres’ “Peace Valley” project, which will create a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, as well as a huge tourist complex in the Arava dubbed the “Las Vegas of the Middle East.” Although the Peace Valley is relatively new, plans to either build a channel between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea or the Red Sea and the Dead Sea have been around for decades. These plans picked up steam at the World Summit in Johannesburg in 2002, where Israel and Jordan introduced the “Peace Conduit,” a Red-Dead canal. The Palestinian Authority subsequently gave its support for the plan. The plans for the Conduit have kept right on rolling within the last few months, as the World Bank began a two-year feasibility study on the project.
Many environmentalists are concerned that the Peace Conduit will have adverse environmental impacts. First of all, the system will require an enormous amount of energy. As water flows downward from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea it will produce enough hydro-electricity to power the desalination plants that are to be built near the Dead Sea.
Eilat, however, is elevated, so the water will need to be pumped over Eilat before it can flow downwards toward the Dead Sea. Under the agreement, Jordan will receive the majority of the desalinated water; Amman’s elevation, however, is 1400 meters higher than that of the Dead Sea, so another massive quantity of input will be necessary to pump the water to Jordan. It is unclear where this energy will come from; potentially, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine are setting themselves up for a gross dependence on fossil fuels – with all of their ecological consequences – in order to power this project.
Secondly, although proponents of the project argue that it will “Save the Dead Sea,” it is entirely possible that the project will actually harm the rapidly-fading landmark. Initial scientific predictions reveal that the 2 billion cubic meters of water that will be pumped from the Red Sea every year will just sit on top of the Dead Sea – instead of mixing in – and will cause growth of algae and gypsum. Furthermore, it is unclear where the brine from the desalination plants will be dumped. If they are to be dumped in the Dead Sea, they could potentially alter the ecology of the water.
The Dead Sea is a huge tourist destination in both Israel and Jordan because of its therapeutic qualities, so if the Peace Conduit changes the composition of the water it could have disastrous results for the tourist industry. This is also extremely significant to the Palestinian Authority, who also control a portion of the Dead Sea, and who will need opportunities to improve their floundering economy as they build their future state.
Lastly, the Peace Conduit could be quite damaging for the Arava Valley. The valley contains underground aquifers. The pipe will run through the valley, so seawater from the Red Sea leaks out of the pipe, it could contaminate the aquifer, rendering it unusable. Additionally, the Arava Valley is located in the Great Seismic Valley. Earthquakes could greatly harm the Conduit, which poses another threat for contamination of groundwater. Since the Arava is a highly productive agricultural center, this is another risk that is both ecological and economic.
Although Jordan’s King Abdullah does not appear to be too pleased about Peres’ “Peace Valley” shenanigans, leaders from Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority are all in agreement on their support for the Peace Conduit, which could be equally as damaging. For now, we will have to wait for the World Bank feasibility results, and hope that our leaders do the same.
More politics and water from the Middle East:
Water Planning, Problems and Propositions For Palestinians
Study It Dead or Red, The Politics of Water
Help The Environment Ministry Collect Fines from Green Criminals
The Water Crisis and the Electric Car
Electric Vehicles: Good for Climate, Bad for Water?