Some good news out of the Middle East region for a change: It was announced at the Israel Business Forum that Israel has signed an historic water-sharing agreement with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. But not all parties are happy with political manoeuvrings around the announcement.
The new project will include a new desalination plant in Aqaba, Jordan, at the northern tip of the Red Sea in order to provide Jordan and Israel with a new source of drinking water. As per the agreement, Israel would release some of its water from Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), further north, to flow to Jordan, and at the same time provide desalinated water to the Palestinians to use in the West Bank.
In a later phase of the project a 180km pipeline system might transport brine produced in the desalination plant form the Red Sea north to the Dead Sea, but officials on the ground say they don’t have information that it would be part of Monday’s agreement.
Environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East are not happy with the way an Israeli politician is misleading the public. They say that Silvan Shalom, the Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation, is declaration that Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will be signing on the “Red Dead Canal” project.
But that’s not true, says Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOeME). His organization promotes cooperation on environment and water issues, and is involved with efforts to rehabilitate the Dead Sea.
He says: “Unfortunately, Mr. Shalom is misleading the Israeli public by announcing the beginning of the ‘Red Dead Canal’ project. The project being discussed today, however, is a very different project”.
Maybe Shalom is misinformed, Green Prophet asks Mira Edelstein, Resource Development for FOeME. She replies: “He wants his name attached to this project thinking it is the best ‘peace’ project around and a great ‘environmental’ project that will ‘Save the Dead Sea’. Even after the World Bank rendered it non feasible! Misinformed is an understatement!”
Munqeth Meyhar, FoEME’s Jordanian Director, explains: “What is being signed today is a conventional desalination project, albeit with a regional perspective, that includes a desalination plant to be built 18 km. north in Aqaba – that will provide about 50 million cubic meters of water to Eilat, in exchange for water from the Sea of Galilee – to supply approximately 50 million cubic meters of water to Jordan.”
The Red Dead Canal project, which was studied by the World Bank, was a grandiose project involving the transfer of 2 billion cubic meters of water from Aqaba to the Dead Sea, with the construction of a desalination facility near the Dead Sea, and hydro-electric power generated by exploiting the difference in elevation – with this power to be used to produce about 800 million cubic meters of potable water.
The World Bank concluded the project not feasible, both for economic reasons and for environmental reasons – due to the possible fear of negative environmental impacts on the Dead Sea.
Mr. Bromberg continues: “Since the subject of a conventional desalination plant in Aqaba was not tested by experts of the World Bank, Friends of the Earth Middle East calls for an environmental study to be undertaken, studying the possibility of drying/evaporating the brine in the desert, or releasing it back to the Red Sea.
“The treatment of brine requires professional examination, and no project should be advanced until sufficient research is carried out. Based on the research already done by the World Bank, the brine should not be transferred into the Dead Sea because of detrimental impacts.”
Business leads in desalination sought:
The tender for this water exchange project will include 2 alternatives for treatment of brine: (1) to discharge the brine back to the Red Sea, 45 km. south of Aqaba, near the Saudi Arabia border; and (2) to discharge the brine via a pipe to the Dead Sea.
This second alternative will have to first meet environmental requirements as well as the extra 400 million dollars just to lay the pipe, before it can go forward.
According to FOEME, they say that Minister Silvan Shalom continues to call this project an environmental project to Save the Dead Sea, even when the Red Sea waters can damage and irreversibly affect the Dead Sea and a peace project that is including all sides.
Time that the politicians start talking with the local NGOs to get the facts – and water pacts – straight.
Image of water question from Shutterstock