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Atlas of Jordan

Myriam Ababsa

Chapter ten - Jordan Mega Projects for Water, Energy and Transportation

The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal

Chantal Demilecamps

Texte intégral

1The project to channel water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea has fascinated people for the past one hundred and fifty years. It was brought back to the fore in 2005 by the three neighbouring countries: Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The stated goals are to halt the decline of the Dead Sea (fig. X.11) and to save it from environmental damage (fig. X.12), to desalinate water and produce affordable energy for all three countries, creating a symbol of peace through a tripartite cooperation (World Bank, 2005). However, the project, at a cost of over $11 billion over twenty years, requires regional stability that is far from being achieved.

Figure X.11 — Dead Sea Level evolution since 1800.

Figure X.11 — Dead Sea Level evolution since 1800.

Figure X.12 — Dead Sea reduction between 1931 and 1998.

Figure X.12 — Dead Sea reduction between 1931 and 1998.

Red Sea - Dead Sea Canal: the Peace Canal?

2Under the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, the Integrated Action Plan for Development of the Jordan Rift Valley was studied in the mid-1990s. Its purpose was to promote lasting peace and economic development in Israel and Jordan. A study focused on the Red to Dead canal project was carried out by the Harza JRV Group and completed in September 1996. The main objective of this project, which is the foundation of the current project, is to create a sustainable source of desalinated water by reverse osmosis to supplement the poor water resources in neighbouring countries. The secondary objective includes energy production and the raising and stabilization of the level of the Dead Sea.

3In 2000 environmental issues began to be taken into consideration and NGOs suggested the Dead Sea be classified as a World Biosphere Reserve to protect it from future damage and obtain international aid (FoEME, 1999). In May 2005, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement pledging to continue the feasibility study of the “Peace Canal” Project. In response to the World Bank’s request, four countries pledged to finance the study together: France, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States.

The project under study: a megaproject linking the Red Sea to the Dead Sea

4The Red Sea - Dead Sea project would include a water intake in the Red Sea at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba (Harza, 1998). This water would then be pumped into a 180 km long open channel or pipeline through the Wadi Araba on the Jordanian side, the Dana Nature Reserve and the inhabited agricultural areas of Ghor al‑Safi and Ghor Fifa, before reaching the south of the Dead Sea. A desalination plant would be built near the shore of the Dead Sea with an annual production capacity of 850 Mm3 of drinking water. The by-product (brackish water resulting from the desalination process) would be discharged into the Dead Sea at a rate of 2.3 Mm3 per day. A hydroelectric generator would use the natural 400 metre drop in elevation between the two seas to provide the energy needed for the initial pumping, the hydrostatic desalination of the Red Sea water, as well as 100 mega watts of surplus energy. Two thirds of the water would then be transported to Amman and the remaining third to Israel. Two operational phases are planned: a filling phase over 20 years to raise the water level from -420 to -400 metres, then a stable phase where the sea level would be maintained at the desired level with desalination and power generation plants operating below their maximum capacity.

An expected positive impact

5The Red Sea - Dead Sea Canal project is designed to have a positive environmental impact. With the restoration of the level of the Dead Sea to that in the 60s, tourism and industry would be revitalized and habitats for unique flora and fauna would be restored through the safeguarding of freshwater sources. The project would also solve much of the problem of Jordan and Israel’s lack of drinking water and it would play a major role for cooperation and peace in the region. However, other possible consequences, both direct and indirect, give rise to doubts and concerns (fig. X.13).

Figure X.13 — Red Dead Canal and development project.

Figure X.13 — Red Dead Canal and development project.

A controversial project

6Although substantial profits are expected from this project to improve water supply, energy production, agro-industry and tourism, the initial investment is a real obstacle. The project’s budget is estimated at $ 5 billion plus $ 5 million annual operating costs for 10 years (Hersh, 2005). Foreign investors may not be willing to finance such a project in an unstable regional context that is perceived as being risky. From an environmental point of view, the Dead Sea is a complex and fragile ecosystem and the biological characteristics of the water (stratification, evaporation rate and its chemical composition) will be affected by the introduction of significant amounts of water with a lower rate of salinity. These changes could lead to deposits of gypsum, algal blooms and microorganisms (Gavrieli, 2002 and 2005). In addition, there is a potential risk of groundwater contamination in the Wadi Araba due to leakage from the salt water pipeline, especially since the canal would pass through an active fault line that poses the threat of seismic activity. The canal would also obstruct the Wadi Araba wildlife corridor since it would pass through several nature reserves (RSS, 2007). The final criticism is that there is only one project under consideration; one route that would require massive infrastructure, whereas the alternatives (a canal from the Mediterranean or from the Euphrates) have all been rejected.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure X.11 — Dead Sea Level evolution since 1800.
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Figure X.12 — Dead Sea reduction between 1931 and 1998.
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k
Titre Figure X.13 — Red Dead Canal and development project.
Fichier image/jpeg, 310k

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2013

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