Pumping Red Sea water into the Dead Sea to save it from drying up ignores environmental consequences, experts warn. Rights groups decry the plan as an ‘attempt to force the Palestinian population to consent to their own dispossession.’
By Keren Simons
Israel and Jordan last Thursday signed a historic agreement to cooperate over their shared bodies of water, in a move to protect the shrinking Dead Sea and to address the looming potable water crisis in the two countries. A pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea is proposed to refill water in the salt lake, and desalinization plants to be built in Jordan. The Palestinian Authority, a party to the Memorandum of Understanding on replenishing the Dead Sea in December 2013, was not a party to this agreement. The World Bank sponsored this long-awaited plan, hailed as an initiative to promote peace in the region through economic and environmental cooperation, on the understanding that environmental problems have no borders.
The Red-Dead conveyance, however, is far from a perfect plan. Environmental groups have argued that the World Bank environmental impact study does not adequately address serious concerns about the effect on ecosystems in both the Red and Dead seas, nor did it consider alternative proposed plans. Palestinian human rights groups have maintained that the plan is part of a continuum of violations of Palestinian rights to water. MK Silvan Shalom implied the plan was another element to realization of the Zionist dream, saying, “today we realize the vision of Binyamin Ze’ev [Theodore] Herzl, the visionary of the state, who already at the end of the 19th century understood the need to revive the Dead Sea.”
Palestinian rights groups state that the World Bank’s feasibility study and Environmental and Social Assessment study lack transparency, or a mandate given to them by a credible consultative and participatory process. They allege that key concerns brought up by Palestinians on Israeli violations of water rights were deliberately ignored.
The Dead Sea is not actually a sea, but a hypersaline lake, naturally replenished by water flowing into it from the Jordan River. The Jordan, however, has been overexploited, polluted, and diverted, with large parts of the lower river in serious danger of drying up. An estimated 98 percent of the trans-boundary Jordan River has been diverted by Israel, Jordan and Syria for public use before it can ever reach the Dead Sea.