The Dead Sea is drying out. Whereas its water level was approximately 389m below mean sea level in
1970, it has fallen to – 427 m in the meantime. The immense diversion of water from its main
tributary, the Jordan River, and the over-exploitation of water resources of the Dead Sea by the
mineral extraction industry have done great damage to the salty lake. Now, water from the Red Sea
shall help. The idea to construct a canal between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea is old. Already at the
end of the 19th century such a canal was discussed as a means of transport and for energy
production. Since the presentation of the so called Peace Conduit project from the Red Sea to the
Dead Sea by the governments of Israel and Jordan at the World Summit in Johannesburg 2002, the
initiative gained in importance. Shortly afterwards, also the Palestinian Authority supported the
project and in May 2005, the three riparian states approved the realisation of a feasibility study. The
study was carried out by the World Bank and was funded by a multi-donor trust fund, which was
established in December 2006. France, Greece, Italy, Japan, South Korea, The Netherlands, Sweden,
and the United States of America contributed about 16.7 million U.S. dollars to the study
programme. In July 2012, a summary of the study was published by the World Bank. The full reports
of the study are available upon written request.
The Feasibility Study of the World Bank
Three different water conveyance systems with either a high or a low level desalination plant were
examined. Based on the study, the optimum system configuration is a pipeline conveyance combined
with a high level desalination plant. From an eastern intake site at the Gulf of Aqaba 2,000 million m3
of water per year shall be pumped onto an elevation of 220m before being redirected for a distance
of about 174km towards the Dead Sea. The difference in elevation of around 650m shall be used to
operate a hydroelectric power plant. The generated energy shall then be used for the desalination
plant. Altogether around 850 million m3
of seawater shall be desalted annually, in order to provide
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories with drinking water. The remaining brine shall also be
fed into the Dead Sea. The objective is to stabilize the water level of the Dead Sea at an altitude of
minus 416m by 2054. With the assumed construction duration of six years, the Red Sea – Dead Sea
Canal could be ready in 2020.
The full costs of the project are estimated to sum up to about 11.1 to 11.3 billion U.S. dollars. This
estimate includes expenses for intake works, the pumping station, the main water conveyance
(tunnel and steel pipes), desalination facilities, hydropower plants, the restitution canal, the
connection to the transmission grid, the project management, the establishment of necessary
institutional structures as well as the water transmission to Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. In addition,
operation and maintenance costs add up to about 400 million U.S. dollars per year. This sum will
increase to about 660 million by 2060.
Potential sources of initial finance include beneficiary government equity / public funding,
multilateral loans, private equity, grants, donations, soft loans, export credit as well as contractor
finance. The operation and maintenance costs shall be recovered through the tariffs for potable
water and hydro-electricity.
about – 6,140 GWh/year. It needs to be emphasised that the energy needed to pump the drinking
water to Israel and Palestine was not even considered in these calculations. Furthermore, the costs
for the produced drinking water will vary between 1.7 and 2.7 U.S. dollars per cubic meter in Jordan
and will thus be unaffordable for the local population.
Problems might also occur from a technical point of view. Pipelines are prone to leakages, which
can continue undetected for many years and which might harm valuable groundwater resources. In
addition, the region between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea is seismically active: a strong
earthquake might damage the pipeline.
From the perspective of Palestinian non-governmental organisations, the plan to construct such a
pipeline undermines Palestinian water rights, as the massive water abstraction from the Lower
Jordan River and the Palestinian dispossession from the river would be legitimised. Palestinians
would end up paying a high price for desalinated drinking water, even though they are entitled to the
free use of the water of the Jordan River.
The World Bank also published a study of alternatives, but FoEME criticises that this study was
entrusted to experts picked by Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian governments and thus represents a
breach to neutrality. According to FoEME, the study should be undertaken in an independent and
comprehensive fashion by international consultants. Even though an Independent Panel of Experts
(IPE) was appointed by the World Bank to oversee the study, it is not clear what powers, if any, the
IPE has to address deficiencies in the study process and to challenge its results. Another indicator for
the lack of transparency is the fact that the World Bank does not make documents related to
decisions and/or compromises made by the Bank and the international consultants regarding the
level of scientific study publicly available.
In addition, only half a million U.S. dollars were spent on examining alternatives. This fact shows that
alternative options have not been tested nearly as intense as the feasibility of the Red-Dead Canal.
That, in turn, puts the statement of the World Bank to try to find the best solution to save the Dead
Sea in question.
Alternatives to the Red-Dead Canal
Instead of investing billions of U.S. dollars in a project whose economic, environmental and social
consequences cannot be predicted, the causes of the problem should be addressed: the massive
diversion of water from the main tributary of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, as well as the
overexploitation of the water resources of the saline lake by the mineral industry.
Already 400-600 million cubic meters of water would be sufficient to bring the water flow of the
Lower Jordan River back to an acceptable level. According to a study conducted by FoEME, dedicated
water saving and water demand management projects may save / generate up to a billion cubic
meters of water in the riparian countries. On the supply side, large quantities of water can be saved
through rainwater collection, the reduction of water losses due to evaporation from exposed manmade
reservoirs and reduction of water losses due
saved through the reduction of water consumption through awareness raising campaigns, consumeroriented
water tariffs and the reuse of grey-water for domestic purposes, such as toilet flushing.
Water saving potentials in the agricultural sector are also high: whereas agriculture uses more than
50% of all the water in Israel, it only contributes around 2% to the gross domestic product. By
changing cropping patterns, using treated waste water, removing import barriers of water-intensive
crops and by improving irrigation technologies large amounts of water can be saved.
In addition to the rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River, the mineral extraction industry needs to
change its practices. Every year, around 650 million cubic meters of water are extracted from the
Dead Sea and led into large evaporation basins. Instead, the valuable minerals could also be filtered
from the salt water by using special membranes. This, however, is an expensive technology and as
the mineral extraction industry does not yet pay for the water that it extracts from the Dead Sea, the
governments need to create incentives first.
Both Israel and Jordan are able to provide large quantities of fresh water for the Lower Jordan River.
In doing so, Palestinian water rights would be respected, which can be seen as an important step to
foster the peace process in the Middle East.
It is not yet clear whether the Red-Dead Canal will be built or not. This is due to the very high costs
associated with the construction. According to the World Bank, the feasibility of the project depends
on the ability to raise 4 billion U.S. dollars in donations and grant aid. Taking the current world
economic crisis into account, this will rather be difficult. In addition, Israel is deeply in debt and
Jordan is close to bankruptcy. Thus, the project does not seem to be financially feasible at the
Together with Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), Global Nature Fund advocates the
rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River. Since 2012, GNF is involved in the development of the first
ever transboundary integrated NGO master plan for the Lower Jordan River. This project lays the
groundwork for effective transboundary water governance in the Lower Jordan River Basin. Due to
the tense political situation in the region, many people regard the rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan
River as a hopeless endeavour. But there is hope. Israel recovers more than 80% of its water and
realises plans to desalinate 600 million cubic meters of water from the Mediterranean Sea. In Jordan
and Palestine sewage treatment plants are constructed. While the region was threatened by severe
water shortages 10-15 years ago, FoEME already came a little bit closer to their goal to pump 400-
600 million cubic meters of water into the Lower Jordan River. In May 2013, Israel’s Water Authority
declared that they will regularly release water from Lake Kinneret. This year, around 6 million cubic
meters will flow into the river and the plan is to increase the inflow to 30 million cubic meters per
year. Even though this amount of water is not enough to replenish a river of the size like the Jordan,
it is a promising start. And once the Jordan River flows again, a first step for saving the Dead Sea is
Die Zeit (24/02/2013), Der durstige Salzsee, available at:
Friends of the Earth Middle East (2010), Towards a Living Jordan River: An Economic Analysis
of Policy Options for Water Conservation in Jordan, Israel and Palestine, available at:
Friends of the Earth Middle East (2010), Towards a Living Jordan River: An Environmental
Flows Report on the Rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River, available at:
Friends of the Earth Middle East (2013), Red-Dead Conduit. Introduction, available at:
Friends of the Earth Middle East (2013), News Alert. Good News for the Lower Jordan River,
available at: http://foeme.org/peace.php?id=109
The World Bank (2012), Draft Final Feasibility Study Report. Summary, available at:
The World Bank (2013), Study Program Financing, available at:
Salzburger Nachrichten (16/08/2013), Der Jordan soll wieder ein Fluss werden, available at:
Scoop Independent News (04/11/2013), Palestinian NGOs on World Bank-sponsored RedDead
Sea Canal, available at: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1311/S00023/palestinianngos-on-world-bank-sponsored-red-dead-sea-canal.htm