The World Bank has recommended building a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and a desalination plant to help stem the loss of water from the salty inland sea.
Environmentalists derided the World Bank report as “irresponsible as the conclusions drawn ignore the environmental risks and the high economic price to pay,” the Friends of Earth Middle East said in an e-mailed statement.
The World Bank said in a report posted this week on its website that the cost of the project including a 110-mile (177- kilometer) pipeline would be about $10 billion and the potential leakage of seawater into underground aquifers is the biggest risk. The lowest place on Earth has seen about a third of its surface area disappear due to drought, agricultural diversion and pumping to extract minerals for fertilizers.
The recommendation was the result of a study by Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli policymakers working under the auspices of the World Bank that examined various plans to stop the drying up of the Dead Sea, whose restorative powers have attracted visitors since biblical times.
“Based on a weighted multi-criteria process, the pipeline conveyance, combined with a high-level desalination plant, is the recommended optimum solution,” the World Bank report said.
Preliminary reports from the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Program showed mixing sea water, desalination brine or both with Dead Sea water entailed risks, especially when amounts exceed 300 million cubic meters a year.
The final draft of the feasibility report confirms that the Red Dead project’s dangers include turning the Dead Sea into a sea of red algae blooms and milky white gypsum formations, the Friends of Earth Middle East group said.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom welcomed the World Bank report and said in a statement that “from here on in, we will work to interest people of influence so that this project is realized.”
Nader Khateeb, Palestinian Director of the FoEME group, said “instead of dealing with the root cause of the problem and the real reason for the shrinking of the Sea -- the diversion of the Jordan River and the unlimited use of Dead Sea waters by the mineral industries -- attention was instead placed squarely on this pipe-dream project.”
The makers of potash, a raw material for fertilizer, compete for water with a centuries-old tourism industry on the Dead Sea, which at 414 meters below sea level is Israel’s most crowded leisure destination. Agriculture also diverts water for crops from the Jordan River that feeds into the Dead Sea.
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians will hold six public consultation meetings starting next month, with feedback and suggestions to be added to the report probably in April, according to the World Bank website.
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