World Bank Tests Waters on Pipeline to Save Dead Sea

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish boy makes his way into the Dead Sea near Ein Gedi August 9, 2007. Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis/Files

The ongoing deterioration of the Dead Sea's water levels has brought together policymakers from Israel, Jordan, and Palestine in an effort to find a solution. With their assistance, the World Bank has recently recommended a Red Sea to Dead Sea pipeline in the hopes of stemming the loss of water.  The project would pump water from the Red Sea to generate hydroelectricity and produce desalinated drinking water, with excess seawater and brine then being discharged into the Dead Sea. 

While Israel's environment chief accepted the World Bank recommendation, he urged that they proceed with caution. 

"The Dead Sea is a unique, rare natural resource and a rash decision not based on firm facts and in-depth study is liable to completely destroy it and all tourism to the region," Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said in an e-mailed statement. 

He has reason to be cautious.  This kind of project comes with many risks, the primary of which being the possibility of intrusion of seawater into underground aquifers.  The overall cost of the 110-mile pipeline would be around 10 billion dollars. 

Environmental group Friends of Earth Middle East find the World Bank's study to be insufficient, claiming that they "failed to adequately consider the precautionary principles when evaluating this project."  A series of faults run throughout the Dead Sea area, leading Friends of Earth to believe that the pipeline would be susceptible to substantial earthquake damage. To illustrate the danger of moving ahead with the pipeline, they compared the decision to Japan's decision to build nuclear facilities in regions impacted by earthquakes and tsunamis.  

The Friends of Earth group is hoping that the World Bank will take more time to explore alternative options to the Red Sea pipeline. Such options include wastewater reuse, desalination, and partial rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River, which flows into the Dead Sea. Another option is to charge the chemical industry in Israel and Jordan for their water consumption. Half of the Dead Sea's record decline in the last 12 months is believed to be caused by the makers of potash, a raw material for fertilizer. 

In spite of these alternative plans, the Israeli environment chief's words of caution, and the overall eventual cooperation that would be required of the three nations, the Friends of Earth group believe both Jordan and Israel have begun independent pilot projects for their own pipeline. Both are replications of the World Bank's "Red Sea - Dead Sea Water Conveyance project," and instead of working together in a joint effort would be competing projects. 

The World Bank is holding public hearings throughout February in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, in order to hear and address concerns on the pipeline.  Friends of Earth is hoping to put pressure on the World Bank to both reconsider the pipeline plan and to help prevent Israel and Jordan from proceeding independently of each other.  



                                                                Joseph Ferrell

Joseph Ferrell is a writer based in New York City.