Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority on Monday inked an agreement to build a long-anticipated pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, part of an initiative that would produce millions of cubic meters of drinking water for the parched region and slake the critically dwindling Dead Sea.
Representatives of the three parties to the agreement – Israel’s Minister for Regional Cooperation Silvan Shalom, Jordanian Minister of Water and Irrigation Hazem Nasser, and Palestinian Authority Minister for Water Shaddad Attili – gathered at the World Bank in Washington for an official signing ceremony.
“This is a historic agreement that realizes a dream of many years and the dream of Herzl. The agreement is of the highest diplomatic, economic, environmental and strategic importance,” Shalom said of the deal on Monday.
He added, “I am pleased that an investment of years has reached its hoped-for conclusion and will benefit Israel and the residents of the region as a whole. The other goals of this project are the generation of electricity by utilizing the difference in elevation between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea and the development of tourism infrastructures.”
The Red Sea-Dead Sea canal, known informally as the Red-Dead project, is expected to cost $300-$400 million, to be raised from donor countries and philanthropic sources as well as a cash injection from the World Bank, the report said. Within a year, international tenders will be published for the construction of the pipeline in Jordanian territory along the Arava valley.
The surface of the Dead Sea lies some 427 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level, and water would naturally flow to it from the Red Sea. The project will be completed in four to five years, the report said.
The pipeline, which will be 180 kilometers long and will pass through Jordanian territory, will carry around 200 million cubic meters of sea water from the Red Sea, at the very southern tip of Israel, per annum.
Eli Raz, a geologist and biologist at Israel’s Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, praised the project as a symbol of regional cooperation, but said it would do little to alleviate the Dead Sea’s woes. The Dead Sea is losing roughly 1 billion cubic meters of water each year, he said, while the project would only return about 10 percent of that amount.
“As a symbol, it’s very good. In respect for the Dead Sea, the deficit, the water balance, this is nothing,” he said.
A larger project envisioned in the past, linking either the Red Sea or the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea via a large canal, remains unlikely. Raz said such ideas have suffered from high costs and environmental concerns.
Mira Edelstein, from the Friends of the Earth Middle East environmental group, said the plan threatens the “environmental sensitivity” of the Dead Sea.
A desalination plant in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, across the gulf from the Israeli resort town of Eilat, will produce drinking water. Israel is to receive around 30-50 million cubic meters, for the benefit of the port city of Eilat and communities in the the arid Arava region, while Jordan will use 30 million cubic meters for its own southern areas.
One hundred million cubic meters of the highly saline byproduct of the process will be piped north to the Dead Sea to replenish the lake, whose level has dipped precariously in recent decades. Environmentalists have warned that pumping the water into the Dead Sea will endanger the environment.
In addition, Israel will pump from the Sea of Galilee 50 million cubic meters of fresh water for Jordan’s northern regions and 30 million cubic meters for the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank.
According to a government statement released Monday, a tender for the project, expected to take three years to complete, will be published in 2014.
The idea of a conduit between the two bodies of water was first put forward by the British during the 19th century. In the 1990s, after Israel and Jordan signed a peace agreement, the idea of laying a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea began to gain momentum.
Stuart Winer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.