Environmentalists concerned over Dead Sea canal plans

Swimmers enjoy the Dead Sea near the West Bank city of Jericho, February 2007. (Fadi Tanas/MaanImages)

HERZELIYA (IRIN) - Environmental groups have expressed concern about plans to build a canal between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea — transferring water from the former to save the latter. They say not enough research has been done and alternative options have not been checked.

“We are concerned about what will happen to the Dead Sea when this amount of marine water is pumped into it,” said Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East, at a 30 July public hearing organized by the World Bank in Herziliya, which followed two others in Ramallah and Amman.

Bromberg said it was also unclear how extracting water would affect the Red Sea, and what problems might be created by moving so much water across the desert.

Some experts have pointed out that the area is known for seismic activity.

The Red-Dead project would take water out of the Red Sea, desalinating some of it for use as drinking water, which would be used for Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians. The rest of the water would go to help save the Dead Sea.

Dead Sea drying up

The level of the Dead Sea continues to drop at the rate of about one meter per year and has lost about a third of its volume, mainly in the last 30 years. Besides being a unique ecosystem and rich with minerals, the sea is known in Hebrew as the “Salt Sea” for its remarkably high salt content.

Environmentalists say excessive mineral mining from the sea, and the dehydration and pollution of its natural water source, the Jordan River, have contributed to the drop.

While all sides — green and corporate-types, the various governments and their citizens — agree that the Dead Sea needs to be saved, the question remains how.

“Even with the conduit, whether it goes ahead or not, the River Jordan needs to be rehabilitated,” said Nader al-Khatib, a Palestinian environmentalist from the Palestinian Water and Environmental Development Organization.

He also questioned how feasible it would be to bring desalinated water from the Gulf of Aqaba to the West Bank, and whether this was the cheapest and best option to resolve the Palestinians’ water crisis.

Furthermore, while hydro-electricity would be produced by the fall of water to the lowest point on earth, fossil fuels would still be burned to desalinate and distribute the water, adding to environmental concerns.

In the past, ideas have been raised to desalinate Mediterranean water for the West Bank.

Many environmental activists agree that the option of saving the Jordan River, water from which is also siphoned off by Syria, Israel and Jordan for drinking water, has not been explored enough.

Study to end in 2010

A World Bank official told IRIN the issues raised were being taken into consideration as part of a study set to end in 2010. However, environmental activists said the committee looking into alternatives was made up of government officials and not independents.

“We object to the [World] Bank identifying, together with the governments, a group of experts who have been picked by the water authorities,” Bromberg told IRIN after the hearing.

Earlier this week, Israel’s parliament launched an independent committee of inquiry into Israel’s water crisis, a move welcomed by environmentalists and others.

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