Jordan has decided to cancel a highly touted joint project with Israel and the Palestinian Authority for a canal linking the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, after years of the plan stagnating, the Kan public broadcaster reported Thursday.
According to the report, Amman has decided to finally pull the plug on the joint pipeline, citing unnamed sources saying there was “no real Israeli desire” for the plan to go ahead.
Instead Jordan will reportedly focus on a potential internal project that will see water pumped from the Red Sea and desalinated at a facility in Aqaba.
However, even if donors are found to fund that internal water supply project, it will take time to build and the kingdom will in any case still have a shortfall that requires continued purchase of some 50 million cubic meters of water per year from Israel supplied under the peace agreements between the two countries, Kan said.
The Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project had long been delayed by bureaucratic hurdles, financing difficulties and environmentalist objections, compounded by Israel’s lack of a functioning government for two years.
The project was further harmed by diplomatic tensions between Israel and Jordan although newly installed Foreign Minister Yair Lapid appeared to court better ties on Monday, praising King Abdullah as “an important strategic ally” and promising to work with him.
After being talked about for years, an agreement on the canal was signed in 2013 with the aim of helping to alleviate Jordan’s severe water shortage while helping replenish the fast-shrinking Dead Sea.
According to the plan, a desalination plant in Jordan would provide much-needed drinking water to the region while its leftover brine would be pumped north to the Dead Sea to replenish the fast-shrinking lake, while also producing green energy through the use of water turbines.
Israel was to see very little economic gain from the canal project, which would have cost the country around $1 billion, but as well as the environmental impact on the Dead Sea, there was also the strategic aim of the pipeline helping to maintain Jordan’s stability.
A devastating drought in Syria, from 2006 to 2011, is credited with helping to fuel the deadly civil war there, as farmers moved to the cities, where unemployment intensified discontent, which was further exacerbated by food shortages.
Jordan is one of the most water-starved countries in the world. It draws nearly 60 percent of its water from underground aquifers, extracting at twice the rate that the groundwater can be renewed. The rest comes from rivers and streams.
In the capital, Amman, water is supplied to rooftop tanks once a week; other areas of the country are supplied even less frequently.
According to one estimate, Jordan’s water is enough to sustain two million people, in a country that has close to ten million — a figure swelled over the past decade by 1.5 million refugees, most of them fleeing civil war in neighboring Syria.
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.