Monday, October 5, 2009

Joranian Initiative on Red Sea to Dead Sea Canal

The Jordanian government has decided to move ahead with plans to build the Red Sea to Dead Sea water carrier on its own in the face of slow decision making within Israel and amongst Palestinians. Jordan apparently is so parched that the plan, which calls for water to be transferred from the Red Sea--some of it desalinated for human consumption, some of it sent to the Dead Sea to refill the latter and all of it to generate hydroelectricity--simply cannot wait any longer. There have been no objections to Jordan's initiative by either Israel or Palestinians.

This project is not a new idea and has its critics which have pointed out that the plan could be an ecological disaster and leaves many important questions unanswered. Some concerns relate to chemical imbalances that may be created in the Dead Sea, the impact this will have on the land and flora and fauna and the almost obvious question, what happens when the Dead Sea is full?

As early as 2002 Israeli government studies reported favorably on such a project. It is clear that something must be done to protect the Dead Sea, which is both an economic (tourism, chemical works) resource and an ecological gem recognized by its candidacy to be a natural wonder of the world. Other than the hydroelectric advantages it offers, would it not make more sense to heed the advice of environmental groups and look at easing pressure on the Jordan river to save the Dead Sea rather than creating new, salt-water rivers? Certainly, if water from the Red Sea can be desalinated, could it not be distributed throughout Jordan (and Israel and the West Bank) to ease the pressure upstream on the Red Sea?

The answer to this question would likely require far more technical expertise than is available on this blog, but environmental groups, and other bloggers, such as "Green Prophet" seem to be asking the same question.

Forgetting the environment for just a moment, however, stories like this are always encouraging reminders of the ability of states, including those with relatively new peace treaties and those between whom peace is not even yet secured, to cooperate when they must. Yes, Jordan is working alone here, but that is not to say the other governments involved will not play their role as soon as they can and it is significant that this decision which will impact three countries is meeting no objection. Once again, water proves to be a tie that binds and encourages cooperation rather than a divisive one.

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