The global contest for the Seven New Wonders of the World is not the only reason the Dead Sea is making news this week.
Last Saturday, Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom announced that the World Bank agreed to finance a $1.25 billion feasibility study on the Red-Dead Canal plan. The plan, a joint venture supported by Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian officials, proposes a 180 kilometer (110 mile) pipeline between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. The pipeline will transfer 200 billion cubic meters of water to the Dead Sea, half of which will be pumped to the rapidly receding body and half of which will be used in desalination projects to provide drinking water to the drought-stricken region.
The World Bank launched a Study Program in 2008, based on terms of reference the three parties introduced (but did not agree on fully), to investigate the environmental, social, and technical costs of the canal. Although the World Bank confirmed that Mr. Shalom did meet with its president, Robert Zoellick, during an official visit to Washington DC last week, it has not made an official commitment to finance the study.
Jordan was also quick to deny the Israeli official’s claim. Fayez Batayneh, Jordan’s director for the canal project, told the Jordan Times he hopes the report is true, but did not receive any official correspondence from the World Bank confirming its agreement to fund the study.
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), who strongly oppose the canal, issued a statement claiming that these news reports show “politicians are using the Red Dead Canal project for their own political image and not out of concern for the Dead Sea.” (Both Mr. Shalom and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have indicated this project is important for the advancement of the region’s “financial peace” as part of the broader regional peace agenda.)
FoEME also emphasized the fact that, although the Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian parties, as well as the World Bank, agreed to undertake a study of alternatives to the canal as a means of saving the Dead Sea, they have failed to launch this study or to appoint a panel of experts to oversee the integrity of the entire research project. They called on the parties to establish an Independent Alternative Study, or for the World Bank to withdraw from the project.
The Dead Sea is shrinking one meter every year, largely due to diversion of the Jordan River water for agriculture and industry. Estimates predict that if business continues as usual, it will be gone completely by 2050.
More on the Red-Dead Canal:
Jordan To Launch Red-Dead Canal Without Israel
Drought in Jordan Calls People to Pray for Rain and the Controversial Dead-Red Peace Canal
Strategic Solution’s Floating Gas Pipes Could Avert Red-Dead Environmental Catastrophe