Red Sea-to-Dead Sea water project takes off
Amman - The Dead Sea has been shrinking for years, starting in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan and Syria — some of the world’s most water-scarce countries — began to divert water from the Jordan River, which flows into the salt-water inland sea.
“Israel could get rid of its Degania dam and rescue the entire ecology downstream by allowing water to flow more freely from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River, hence helping to rescue the vanishing Dead Sea,” said an environmentalist, who asked not to be named.
“Up to 95% of the river’s flow has been appropriated, leaving nothing more than a muddy trickle. Therefore, the Dead Sea has lost about one-third of its surface area since the ‘60s.”
In a bid to avoid an ecological catastrophe, 17 international firms entered tenders to construct a canal linking the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba in southern Jordan to the Dead Sea.
Water is rare in Jordan, where 92% of the land is arid. The country is home to approximately 7 million people and the population has grown with the influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq as well as Yemen and Libya.
Addressing the crisis is critical as water scarcity is predicted to worsen as Syria’s war forces more families to seek safety in Jordan. About 1.5 million Syrian refugees are in Jordan already.
Not only has the population grown but people use more water per capita than before with the introduction of dishwashers, washing machines and swimming pools. Some people also like to wash their cars three or four times a week.
Climate change scientists said North Africa and the Levant are undergoing accelerated desertification.
Experts have warned that the Dead Sea, the lowest and saltiest body of water in the world, is shrinking by 1 metre per year and would be dry by 2050.
The Jordan-Israel water supply agreement advances a negotiation process that started in 2005 under the auspices of the World Bank. In December 2013, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed a resource-sharing deal to provide water to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The latest deal includes Jordan and Israel but provisions for the Palestine territory were not included. Israeli officials said the Palestinian National Authority would be dealt with separately.
Jordan’s Water and Irrigation Ministry did not name the firms involved but its technical committee is examining each bid.
The $900 million first phase of the project involves building a system to transfer 300 million cubic metres (mcm) of water each year from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and the construction of a 65-85-mcm-a-year capacity desalination plant in Jordan near the Red Sea to supply water to cities in southern Jordan and Israel, the ministry said.
Under the agreement, of the approximately 80 mcm of fresh water that would be produced, 50-60% would be sold to Israel. In return, Israel promised to sell an extra 50 million cubic metres of water per year to Jordan from the Sea of Galilee for cities in northern and central Jordan and sell an extra 20-30 mcm to the Palestinian Water Authority.
The agreement calls for the desalination brine by-product to be mixed with seawater and piped 180km north to the Dead Sea.
“The amount of water to be transported to the Dead Sea had been reduced to less than 1/10th of the volume originally proposed in 2005,” the environmentalist said.
“The 100 mcm of wastewater will not be enough to halt the Dead Sea’s retreat, which would need 800 million cubic metres per year just to stabilise. The project could undermine the fragile ecosystem of the Dead Sea, which they fear could be wiped out by water from the Red Sea.”
Tourism, which was hard-hit by regional conflicts, would suffer as the Dead Sea draws medical and other tourists to the area, economist Issam Qadamani said.
“The scaled-back version of the project means that the ambitious work to save the Dead Sea is still decades away. “Jordan cannot afford to lose the Dead Sea. Neither can the world allow the lowest point on Earth to slowly continue to die out,” he said.