To connect the Red Sea with the Dead Sea has been discussed for many years. Already in the mid-19th century British officers were thinking of a connection in geopolitical terms. Later in the same century it was proposed to generate energy from the Dead Sea’s position of 390 meters below sea level. At the end of the 1960s the connection was analysed as part of a peace process between Jordan and Israel.
On May 9, 2005 Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to go ahead with a feasibility study to connect the two seas. Since then numerous studies, financed by the international community through the World Bank, has been undertaken.
However, in August this year the Jordanian Government decided to go ahead with its own project to connect the Red Sea with the Dead Sea. A “first phase” project costing USD 980 million will establish a desalination plant and bring 100 million cubic meters of drinking water per year to northern Jordan, including the capital Amman. “The Government has approved the project after years of technical, political, economic and geological studies” Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur told a news conference. He also referred to the 500,000 Syrian refugees that Jordan is hosting at this moment as a further argument to act now and expand the supply of drinking water.
A major critique of the project relates to the unique environment in the Jordan valley. Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) argue that a large inflow of sea water would radically change the lake’s fragile ecosystem and further increase the salinity. The current surface level drop of 1 meter per year could possibly be halted, but that is probably the only positive environmental outcome of the addition of large volumes of sea water into the lake. FoEME has argued that better solutions to the acute water situation in the region would be those of water recycling, conservation, rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan and even the import of water via a pipeline from Turkey.
However, the Jordanian Government’s decision didn’t last many months. Last week it was announced that the single Jordan initiative has turned into a regional agreement involving Jordan, Palestine and Israel. An agreement was signed last Monday at the headquarters of the World Bank in Washington DC. The concerns that Israel had regarding environmental uncertainties and Palestinian demands to be treated as an equal and have access to the Dead Sea shoreline where apparently discarded.
So what does this development tell us? One observation is probably that when water gets seriously scarce – like in Jordan today – it also takes the driver’s position in national and regional development. Not only the environment but also national politics turn second to an overarching drive towards water security. While Jordan could have pursued its single initiative, it probably turned to expensive and cumbersome to implement alone. It seemed like transboundary water management was lost as a driver for cooperation and regional development, but, again, when water gets scarce, the politics turn pragmatic. It is not possible to compromise with an empty tap. Countries have to cooperate.
Read more about the single-Jordan initiate on the following website links:
Read more about the shared, regional agreement in the following two links: