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Red-Dead pipeline is the wrong answer, politically and environmentally

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

A man reads a newspaper while floating in the Dead Sea. (Author unknown, WikiCommons)

A man reads a newspaper while floating in the Dead Sea. (Author unknown, WikiCommons)

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.

Largely as a result of this, and of the unsustainable mineral extraction activities by Jordan and Israel, the water level of the Dead Sea has dropped dramatically at an average of one meter per year, and the salt lake has split into two separate pools. The receding coastline has led to the formation of dangerous sinkholes in the area. The Red Sea-Dead Sea conveyance project does not address any of these causal factors, instead planning to pipe water from the Red Sea, 180 kilometres away, into the Dead Sea.

Environmental scientists have questioned the reasoning for this, given that this plan does nothing to reverse the damage done to the Jordan River. Additionally, the waters of the two seas are entirely different from each other and the impact of this mix is yet unknown. The introduction of Red Sea water risks layering the waters, leading to the growth of gypsum crystals and algae in the Dead Sea. This could have devastating consequences for Dead Sea preservation and the region’s ecosystem, affecting the health benefits of this heritage site and, consequently, the tourist industry. Another issue is the impact the pipeline may have on the ecosystem of the Red Sea, as coral reefs are highly sensitive to a change in currents, which the pipeline redirection may cause.

Chairman and Jordanian director of Eco-Peace Middle East Munqeth Mehyer noted that the current plan is very different from its original incarnation, and is now more of a desalination project than Dead Sea conservation. To pump “100 million cubic meters of water is an insignificant amount to the actual needs of the Dead Sea,” he said, “especially when there are indications that increasing that much brine will create environmental problems. It is not worth the risk of laying that pipeline and all that money [estimated at $900 million] for such a small amount of water.” It would be more advisable, he explained, to redirect the enormous sum of money to cleaning up the Jordan River, the original source of water to the Dead Sea: “We should not play with nature in this way. The Red Sea is not the right source.”

A feted accomplishment of the agreement between Israel and Jordan is the desalination plant to be constructed in Aqaba, Jordan, a possible solution to water shortages and job creation. This involves a plan to sell desalinated water to the Palestinians, although this would be part of a separate agreement with the Palestinian Authority. In a joint statement in October 2013, Palestinian NGOs expressed their emphatic rejection of the Red-Dead plan as “an unacceptable attempt to force the Palestinian population to consent to their own dispossession.” Israel controls most of the water sources in the Jordan Valley, and Palestinian access to water is restricted and inadequate. Given that the plan does nothing to address the damage to the Jordan River, or to the rapidly depleting Eastern Aquifer, one of the only water sources on which West Bank Palestinians can depend, Palestinian rights groups view the Red-Dead project as an endorsement of the status quo and persistent impunity that accompanies Israel’s inequitable control of water sources in the West Bank.

Keren Simons is an international development professional currently based in London after four years in Israel – Palestine. Tweet @SimonsKeren. Thanks to the Thirsting for Justice Campaign for contributing information. 

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    1. Jello

      Oh go cry a river. Israel and Jordan cooperated without waiting for the resolution of all the problems of the universe and the Palestinians are upset they were not allowed to sabotage the agreement. You are here to fling feces on the deal because of that and for no other reason.

      The plan for the pipeline has been studied for 20 years. It has gone through all possible examinations. The only people opposed are those that want nothing else to move in this region until the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is resolved. It is great that such people and organizations are supported generously by the Europeans so that more boring and predictable obstructionist filth is published like this article.

      Reply to Comment
      • Whiplash

        Bruce how is your comment relevant to the topic of the article? It would be nice if you once in a while tried to be on topic.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          I can answer that.
          Both articles are about detecting bullshit.
          (Thank you, Mr. Bruce Gould!)
          Meir Dagan, the ultimate crap detector.

          Reply to Comment
          • Karl

            The ===evidence=== from world news is that we, the Hebrew Nationalist Camp, have not yet reached an optimal level of coercive violence in dealing with competing tribes.

            The ===evidence=== from world news is that that correct level has been reached when teenage girls from Western Europe, secretly run away from home to breed with our fighters.

            Biology is destiny. We are the alpha tribe on this side of the River. The other tribe has two choices – play niceley by our rules – or get transferred to Amman.

            They can set up their Palace there.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            “…the Hebrew Nationalist Camp…”

            Karl is this post of yours (a) fascism, (b) spam for kosher hot dogs, or (c) just pure camp? Or all three? It reads like a merger of the efforts of Gottesman (nuts), Tomer/Jello (fascism) and cc Deville (camp).

            Reply to Comment
          • C.C. DeVille

            Brian, are you a child? Why publish such nonsense.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”

            “To invent out of knowledge means to produce inventions that are true. Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him.”

            –Ernest Hemingway

            Reply to Comment
    2. M Z

      Environmentalist issues aside, the fact that Palestinians are not scoring a complete political victory in the process of Israeli-Jordanian economic development is not an act of oppression but rather Palestinian politicians playing the game of partisan politics as usual. The Palestinian Authority might say that Israelis are trying to push a status quo, but Palestinian politicians are always trying to push their own status quo which definitely has nothing to do with helping the environment or the economic development of the region. If Palestinian politicians cannot win a political or moral victory that involves some form of humiliation or punishment for Israelis, it spins the results as oppression for Palestinians! Again, partisan fighting as usual, not much different than how Republicans and Democrats fight in the U.S. congress aka the “I’m not winning unless you’re losing” mentality.

      If the issues at hand are economic development and environmental development, then we can look at it objectively without a partisan edge. Environmental damage and pollution hurts everyone equally, it doesn’t just magically hurt Palestinians only. Likewise, economic development is such that a high tide should raise all ships. Considering how many Jordanian citizens ARE Palestinians and also maintain strong connections with relatives in the West Bank , tell me how economic development for Jordan DOESN’T benefit the Palestinian people in general?

      If Palestinian Authority officials could do their job and put objective issues of economics or environmental issues ahead of the partisan heel dragging, it would be a lot easier to take them or their advocates seriously when they claim to have real concerns about projects like the Red-Dead pipeline.

      Reply to Comment