The Politics of Water in the Fertile Crescent, Part 2: The Red-Dead Project Details

dead-sea According to Michael Beyth, chief scientist of Israel’s Ministry of National Infrastructures, the idea of digging a canal to connect the Mediterranean, Red, and Dead Seas dates way back to 1855, when William Allen, in his “The Dead Sea – A New Route to India,” proposed the notion as a cheaper alternative to the Suez Canal. The idea surfaced again in Theodor Herzl’s 1902 novel, Altneuland, and Wily Ley’s Engineers’ Dreams, but was, time and again, dismissed as politically impractical. Following the 1973 oil crisis, the notion was revived as an option for hydroelectric power generation and the Mediterranean-Dead Sea Company examined several potential options, ultimately recommending a route from the Mediterranean Sea, through the Gaza Strip, to Masada, a scenario plagued by obvious political issues. However, after a regional water crisis in the 1990s, the canal/hydro-power concept was further augmented with the inclusion of a hydrostatically supported, reverse osmosis desalination plant. And in 2005, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to begin a feasibility study for the Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal , to be conduced by the World Bank.

The proposed project would consist of a 110 mile long conveyance channel, constructed from some combination of tunnels, pipelines, and/or canals. According to a recent article in The Jordan Times, the project is slated to pull between 1,000 and 2,000 million cubic meters of water from the Red Sea, produce 850 million cubic meters of desalinated water, and stabilize the Dead Sea between 410m and 420m below sea level by the target date of 2048. Amotz Asa-El, who writes for The Jerusalem Post, claims that the project would create a million jobs and satisfy 1/3 of Jordanian and Palestinian water needs.

The hydropower plant is anticipated to produce between 150MW and 250MW of electricity, most of which would be used to pump sea water up 230m from the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba; as a result, the desalination plant would, most likely, require a supplemental source of energy.

The project is anticipated to take five to ten years to build, and costs estimates vary widely, coming in at anywhere between one and ten billion USD. The World Bank feasibility study, which is currently underway, will cost $15.5 million. While it is unclear where money to finance the project would ultimately come from, some critics such as Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, believe that the Israeli, Jordanian, and PA governments are hoping/expecting financial help from the international community.