Jordan and Israel signed an agreement to go ahead with a World Bank-sponsored project to build a desalination plant in the Gulf of Aqaba and a pipeline linking the Red Sea with the Dead Sea.

The plant will be built in the southern Jordanian port of Aqaba on the Red Sea and will desalinate water to be shared by Israelis and Palestinians. The brine that is a byproduct of the process will be sent north in a 112-mile (180-km) pipeline to the Dead Sea.

The project will cost around $900 million. It will take nearly three years to complete.

Israel Dead Sea-Red Sea Canal

“The deal will help satisfy Jordan’s increasing water needs for development,” Jordan’s water minister, Hazem al Nasser, said after the agreement was signed, according to Reuters. Nasser said the pipeline will pump 300 million cubic meters annually of Red Sea water to the Dead Sea. As much as 2 billion cubic meters are envisioned in a future expansion. Under the agreement, Israel would also release 50 million cubic meters more water from the Sea of Galilee, its largest reservoir, to Jordan, beyond water-sharing stipulated in a 1994 peace agreement.

Israeli National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom said the project would bring water from the desalination plant for farmers in southern Israel and drinking water to the north.

According to Corporate Knights magazine, less than one per cent of the planet’s fresh water is available to a human population that keeps growing. With more than seven billion people relying on access to this life-giving liquid, it’s no wonder the International Monetary Fund has called water scarcity the second most important risk to world stability.

“The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is considered the most water-scarce region of the world. As the region’s population continues to grow, per-capita water availability is set to fall by 50 per cent by 2050,” predicts a water outlook report from the World Bank.

For the oil-rich arid lands of the Middle East, water scarcity has been a portentous reality for the past decade with underground aquifers being sucked dry for agriculture use and tensions over water distribution simmering underneath diplomatic smiles. Already, 80 per cent of the world’s 15 most water-scarce countries are located in the Middle East, with the Gulf region being the hardest hit.

The water level in the Dead Sea is shrinking at a rate of more than one metre per year, and its surface area has shrunk by about 30% in the last 20 years. This is largely due to the diversion of over 90% of the water of the Jordan River. In the early 1960s, the river moved 1.5 billion cubic metres of water every year from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. But dams, canals and pumping stations built by Israel, Jordan and Syria to divert water for crops and drinking have reduced the flow to about 100 million cubic metres a year (MCM/yr) (mainly brackish water and sewage). The decline of the Dead Sea level is creating major environmental problems in: the creation of sink holes that endanger structures, plantations and roads; receding sea shores and the creation of mud plains; and other effects on the environment and the flora and fauna of the region. The World Bank Study estimated the intangibles benefits of the removal of the environmental problems associated with the decline in the sea water level as about US$ 31 billion.

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