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News Analysis: Tripartite water deal on Dead Sea: solution or disaster?

English.news.cn   2013-12-11 21:54:38            

by Anat Shalev

JERUSALEM, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) -- Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed a landmark agreement Monday on the construction of a pipeline to carry water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

The plan to connect the Red Sea and the Dead Sea has been around for decades and undergone various changes. It was also included in the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994.

The project includes an initial stage in which a 180-km pipeline will be built to deliver water from a desalination plant in Jordan's port of Aqaba, located on the northeast shores of the Red Sea, to the Dead Sea.

The residues of water left from the desalination process ( mainly salt and refuse) will flow along with the water on the pipeline from Aqaba to the southern bank of the Dead Sea.

The project is meant to prevent the degradation and shrinking of the Dead Sea and supply desalinated water to Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. Of late, Jordan especially has suffered from the effects of water shortage due to an increase in the population as refugees from war-torn Syria continue to pour in.

In January, the World Bank determined that the pilot project is feasible and would cost 10 billion U.S. dollars, but it warned, along with environmental organizations, of several possible environmental concerns.

Chemical reaction as a result of the mixing of two types of water would cause rampant growth of algae, the World Bank warned, adding the algae would deposit Gypsum that would then whiten the waters and enhance bacteria, among others.

However, Dan Catarvias, director of Division of Foreign Trade and International Relations at the Israeli Manufacturers Association and board member of the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce, lauded the plan as holding promise for better regional cooperation in the future.

"We're finally seeing here the utilization of a long process which will benefit all sides involved, I believe," Catarvias told Xinhua on Monday.

"First of all it's clear by the tests conducted by Israel and the World Bank that the project is feasible. It will be funded by international donors who will pass the funds to Jordan, where the project will be carried out (the pipeline and plant will built be on Jordanian land). Jordan is defined as a developing state rather than a developed one like Israel so it's easier for Jordan to get loans and benefits in that aspect," he explained.

"Other than the immediate and clear benefits, the revitalization of the Dead Sea and supplying water to millions of people in this arid area, this cooperation will trigger more cooperation between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians on other fields. If this plan takes off, there will be joint projects for the production of energy, for example," Catarvias said.

"Any framework that brings the parties to work together, cooperate and channel their energy to pragmatic projects in the field is a positive thing, we don't have a lot of that going on here and it could promote cooperation in the future."

Catarvias didn't express any worries over the environmental impact of the project.

"There is a strong environmental lobby in Israel who will be the watchdog of this project step by step and will warn of a pending crisis," he said, adding that "it's a matter of deciding what damage is more preferable: (watching the annihilation of) the Dead Sea or it saving with certain costs."

Attorney Gideon Bromberg, CEO of the "Friends of the Earth," an environmental organization in Israel, however, slammed the program, saying that it may cause irreparable damage to the Dead Sea.

"An agreement on water exchange is something to be lauded however, this megalomaniac project will destroy the Dead Sea," Bromberg told Xinhua on Monday.

"Transferring the brine from the desalination factory to the Dead Sea would dramatically change the composition of the Dead Sea and in return cause immense environmental damages which will completely alter the Dead Sea as we know it," he added.

Bromberg charged that there is a gap between the fine print of the World Bank report -- filled with uncertainty about the ramifications of the plan -- and the bottom line deeming it executable.

"The environmental issues weren't fully examined by the World Bank experts and such inquiries must be carried out before this project is carried out," Bromberg said, claiming that such an inspection would determine that the project is not economically or environmentally feasible.

Bromberg also told Xinhua that another risk associated with the plan is the leaking of the saline from the Red Sea waters could go into the water grounds of the Arava Desert. For instance, an earthquake (not something uncommon along the Great Valley Rift) could spoil the waters which provide the lifeline for the area.

Not only are non-governmental environmental organizations against the plan but the Israeli ministry of environmental protection released in February a paper warning of the "great environmental risks" and possible "irreversible damage to the Dead Sea, as well as charging the plan lacked preparation to evaluate the exact influence of the process on the natural surroundings.

"These processes could bring to the complete annihilation of the sea and ruin the tourism industry in the area. Out of precaution, the ministry suggests to run a very restricted pilot to see the changes' impact on the ecological system," the paper concluded.

Even if the costs of the construction of the pipeline and the plant could be completely covered by international organizations, consumption of the desalinated water would cost more to the citizens of Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

"The desalinated water that would be created for the Jordanian market would cost 2.7 dollars per cubic meter -- three times more than its current costs," wrote Aviv Lavi, an environmental and financial pundit for Ma'ariv in Israel's Forbes edition earlier this month.

"Who will pay for these costs, the poor Jordanian public? The desalinated water we'll get will cost more. It's nice that technology enables us to provide and transfer waters to great distances and make them drink-worthy -- but to do it at low costs, that's another matter," Lavi wrote.

Related:

Tripartite deal to connect Red Sea with shrinking Dead Sea

JERUSALEM, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority will sign on Monday a "landmark" agreement to connect the Red Sea with the shrinking Dead Sea.

"This is a historical agreement," Israel's Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Cooperation Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio. He said "It took very long time but eventually we will have a tripartite agreement. It's a dream that comes true."  Full story

Editor: Hou Qiang
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