Jordan set to plunge into billion-dollar Red-Dead Canal

Going ahead with plan without Israel or PA, Amman to draw water from Red Sea to the Dead Sea through desalination plant

The Jordanian bank of the Dead Sea. (CC BY jemasmith, Flickr)
The Jordanian bank of the Dead Sea. (CC BY jemasmith, Flickr)

Jordan announced Monday it is planning to move forward with the first phase of a large-scale water project linking the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal, known informally as the Red-Dead project, will help solve the country’s massive water shortage and replenish the shrinking Dead Sea, Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation Hazem Nasser told reporters Monday.

The cost of the initiative, which is estimated to provide parched Jordan with 3.5 billion cubic feet (100 million cubic meters) of water per year, is between $980 million and $1.2 billion. The government was also seeking to secure several hundred million dollars in grants to offset the cost.

The massive project — the third largest during King Abdullah II’s term — was originally to include Israel and the Palestinians, but stalled in recent years, despite numerous studies and international support, in part due to the Arab-Israeli conflict and also because environmentalists on both sides raised concerns about its feasibility.

One report, however, said that the Jordanian project would be conducted in association with Israel, which shares a long border with the Hashemite Kingdom, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said the government approved the project “after years of technical, political, economic, and geological studies.”

Under the plan, Jordan, most of which is desert, will draw water from the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern tip of the Red Sea and transfer it north to the Araba Valley, where a desalination plant is to be built to treat water. Production at the plant will also generate hundreds of jobs. Another pipeline that extends from the plant to the Dead Sea will help discharge brine back into it, which will help save the natural wonder from drying up, Jordan’s Petra News added.

Nasser explained that desalinated water would return south to Aqaba, while salt water would be pulled into the Dead Sea. Environmentalists, however, have warned that filling the Dead Sea with seawater could prove dangerous for the body’s fragile ecosystem.

The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water on Earth, as well as the saltiest. It has been drying out for years, and experts believe it is on course to shrink — at least by more than 10 percent — within the next 50 years. The deprivation of the Dead Sea started in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan, and Syria began diverting water away from the Dead Sea’s main supply source, the Jordan River.

The idea of a conduit between the two seas was put forward by the British during the 19th century. The idea to build a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea — to refill the latter and to provide extra potable water — garnered momentum in the late 20th century and was formally put forward in the 1990s around the time of the Israel-Jordan peace agreement. Jordan had initially agreed to a build a $10-billion pipeline, together with Israel and the Palestinians, but that initiative withered after running up against opposition on both sides.

“The high cost of that project prompted the government to come up with the ideas we announced today, which we call the ‘first phase,'” Nasser told the news conference. “We had no other option. We will revive the idea of saving the Dead Sea, while at the same time having drinking water.”

Nasser said that Jordan didn’t need to reach an agreement with Israel to go ahead with that first phase. Ensour, the Jordanian prime minister, said that Jordan was interested in selling desalinated water to Israel, while buying water from the Sea of Galilee.

“We will share water with Israel,” he added. “Israelis want water in the south, and we need water in the north.”

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