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Palestinian NGOs come out against the Red Sea Dead Sea canal

Although water scarcity, especially for Palestinians, is a frequent subject of postings (see Notes and links) this is the first on the ‘RSDS’ – Red Sea Dead Sea canal so it contains a number of background articles as well as news.

1) PCHR: Palestinian NGO statement on the World Bank-sponsored Red-Dead Sea Canal;
2) Times of Israel: Jordan set to plunge into billion-dollar Red-Dead Canal, August 2013;
3) AFP: Dead Sea, Red Sea plan raises environmental hackles, August 2013;
4) Nature/Middle East: World Bank backs Red-Dead Sea canal, February 2013;
5) Ha’aretz: Is the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal about to become reality?, January 2013;
6) Notes and links includes an extract from an Ewash report on water in the West Bank;

An image taken from Google Earth showing the area and proposed canal ringed in yellow.

Palestinian NGO statement on the World Bank-sponsored Red-Dead Sea Canal

Posted by Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
October 21, 2013

The undersigned Palestinian NGOs call on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to halt all forms of cooperation with the World Bank-sponsored Red Sea – Dead Sea Conveyance Project (RSDSCP) and to take an unequivocal public stance of rejection to the project. It has become clear beyond doubt that the project is an unacceptable attempt to force the Palestinian population to consent to their own dispossession and to compromise on their own rights. Any lack of a clear position by the Palestinian leadership on this outrageous project, any stand of ambiguity or positive criticism towards it, contributes to the impunity that for far too long has allowed Israel to appropriate Palestinian water and deny Palestinians their rights.

Five reasons why the RSDSCP must be rejected:

The project undermines Palestinian water rights and legitimizes Palestinian dispossession from the Jordan River. Israel unilaterally controls the flow from the upper Jordan River and prevents Palestinians from making use of their rightful share of the lower river’s water. This is the sole cause for the gradual disappearance of the Dead Sea. Instead of addressing Israel’s water theft, the project aims to maintain the unjust status-quo of the river and allegedly “save” the Dead Sea through large scale Red Sea water transfer.

The project attempts to replace the river’s natural fresh water appropriated by Israel from the upper Jordan River with desalinated Red Sea water sold at high costs to severely water-dispossessed Palestinians and at pitiful quantities. Even these sales remain merely an “option” and the World Bank studies plan to ‘supply’ only Jericho, which is currently the only water-rich place in the occupied West Bank. With every drop of water that Palestinians purchase, they capitulate to their own deprivation.

Neither the World Bank’s Feasibility Study (FS) nor its Environmental & Social Assessment study (ESA) address the grave damage to the West Bank Eastern Aquifer, currently the only source Palestinians have for water supply and development. The Eastern aquifer is rapidly depleting, and its water table is dropping at an alarming rate – both as a direct result of the shrinking Dead Sea. Consenting to the project entails closing an eye to the rapid destruction of the only other water resource in the Eastern West Bank. Instead, Israel should be held accountable for the damage it caused to this vital resource on which over 1 million Palestinians currently depend.

Far from “saving the Dead Sea”, the RSDSCP will actually destroy the unique features of the Dead Sea and its ecosystem. Under the project, the Dead Sea is slated to turn into a dead, engineered pool of Red Sea water and desal brines, destroying this Palestinian and world heritage site.

Both Red-Dead studies (FS & ESA) and the entire conduct of the World Bank lack credibility and transparency, and make a mockery of the alleged consultation and participation process. Throughout the process, the Bank has systematically turned a blind eye to Israeli violations of Palestinian water rights. The Bank repeatedly and deliberately ignored key concerns expressed by Palestinians since the project’s inception and during the “consultation” meetings in severe breach of its very own Code of Conduct, as well as the project’s Terms of Reference. In addition, the Bank management has so far refused to make public the results of the Feasibility and ESA studies. The World Bank’s actions are tantamount to a cover-up.

Palestinian civil society organizations reiterate their rejection of the Red Sea – Dead Sea Conveyance Project and invite Palestinians of all walks to demand that the PLO and the PNA honor their aspirations for self-determination and justice by voicing a clear, loud and unequivocal “No!” to the Red-Dead Sea scam. This project can only result in further damaging and undermining Palestinian water rights and all cooperation with it should cease immediately. Reparation and compensation for past damages and respect for Palestinian water rights are long overdue and the only way forward.

Endorsing organizations and individuals:
Palestinian Environment NGO Network (PENGON)
MAAN Development Center
Palestinian Wastewater Engineers Group (PalWEG)
Stop the Wall
Palestinian Farmers Union
Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ)
Land Research Center
Media Environmental Center
Palestine Hydrology Group (PHG)
Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC)
Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UWAC)
Environmental Education Center (EEC)
Institute of Environmental and Water Studies – Birziet University
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)
Palestinian Environment Friends (PEF)
Arab Center for Agricultural Development (ACAD)
Earth and Human Center for Research and Studies (EHCRS)
Palestinian Farmers Association
The Arab Agronomists Association (AAA)
Prof. Dr. Hilmi S. Salem, Palestine Technical University – Kadoorie (PTUK)
Clemens Messerschmid, Hydrologist
Prof. Dr. Samir Afifi, Environmental & Earth Sciences Department, Islamic University of Gaza

This image, taken by Robert Kyriakides at a museum near the Dead Sea in Jordan, illustrates how the shape and size of the sea has changed and will be changed by 2400.

Jordan set to plunge into billion-dollar Red-Dead Canal

Going ahead with plan without Israel or PA, Amman to draw water from Red Sea to the Dead Sea through desalination plant

By Michal Shmulovich
August 19, 2013

Jordan announced Monday it is planning to move forward with the first phase of a large-scale water project linking the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal, known informally as the Red-Dead project, will help solve the country’s massive water shortage and replenish the shrinking Dead Sea, Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation Hazem Nasser told reporters Monday.

The cost of the initiative, which is estimated to provide parched Jordan with 3.5 billion cubic feet (100 million cubic meters) of water per year, is between $980 million and $1.2 billion. The government was also seeking to secure several hundred million dollars in grants to offset the cost.

The massive project — the third largest during King Abdullah II’s term — was originally to include Israel and the Palestinians, but stalled in recent years, despite numerous studies and international support, in part due to the Arab-Israeli conflict and also because environmentalists on both sides raised concerns about its feasibility.

One report, however, said that the Jordanian project would be conducted in association with Israel, which shares a long border with the Hashemite Kingdom, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said the government approved the project “after years of technical, political, economic, and geological studies.”

Under the plan, Jordan, most of which is desert, will draw water from the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern tip of the Red Sea and transfer it north to the Araba Valley, where a desalination plant is to be built to treat water. Production at the plant will also generate hundreds of jobs. Another pipeline that extends from the plant to the Dead Sea will help discharge brine back into it, which will help save the natural wonder from drying up, Jordan’s Petra News added.

Minister Nasser explained that desalinated water would return south to Aqaba, while salt water would be pulled into the Dead Sea. Environmentalists, however, have warned that filling the Dead Sea with seawater could prove dangerous for the body’s fragile ecosystem.

The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water on Earth, as well as the saltiest. It has been drying out for years, and experts believe it is on course to shrink — at least by more than 10 percent — within the next 50 years. The deprivation of the Dead Sea started in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan, and Syria began diverting water away from the Dead Sea’s main supply source, the Jordan River.

The idea of a conduit between the two seas was put forward by the British during the 19th century. The idea to build a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea — to refill the latter and to provide extra potable water — garnered momentum in the late 20th century and was formally put forward in the 1990s around the time of the Israel-Jordan peace agreement. Jordan had initially agreed to a build a $10-billion pipeline, together with Israel and the Palestinians, but that initiative withered after running up against opposition on both sides.

“The high cost of that project prompted the government to come up with the ideas we announced today, which we call the ‘first phase,’” Minister Nasser told the news conference. “We had no other option. We will revive the idea of saving the Dead Sea, while at the same time having drinking water.”

Nasser said that Jordan didn’t need to reach an agreement with Israel to go ahead with that first phase. The prime minister also mentioned that Jordan was interested in selling desalinated water to Israel, while buying water from the Sea of Galilee.

“We will share water with Israel,” the premier added. “Israelis want water in the south, and we need water in the north.”

Dead Sea, Red Sea plan raises environmental hackles

August 26, 2013

A plan to link the Red Sea with the shrinking Dead Sea could save it from total evaporation and bring desalinated water to thirsty neighbors Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.

But environmentalists warn that the “Red-Dead” project could have dire consequences, altering the unique chemistry of the landmark inland lake at the lowest point on earth.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur said on Monday that his government had decided to press ahead with the 980-million dollar project which would give the parched Hashemite kingdom 100 million cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) of water a year.

“The government has approved the project after years of technical, political, economic and geological studies,” Nsur told a news conference.

Under the plan, Jordan will draw water from the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea to the nearby Risheh Height, where a desalination plant is to be built to treat water.

“The desalinated water will go south to (the Jordanian town of) Aqaba, while salt water will be pumped to the Dead Sea,” Nsur said.

The Dead Sea, the world’s saltiest body of water, is on course to dry out by 2050.

It started shrinking in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan and Syria began to divert water from the Jordan River, the Dead Sea’s main tributary.

Israel and Jordan’s use of evaporation ponds for extracting valuable minerals from its briny waters has only exacerbated the problem.

With a coastline shared by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, the Dead Sea’s surface level has been dropping at a rate of around a meter a year.

According to the latest available data form Israel’s hydrological service, on July 1, it stood at 427.13 meters (about 1,400 feet) below sea level, nearly 27 meters lower than in 1977.

Under the plan most of the desalinated water would go to Jordan, with smaller quantities transferred to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

But Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) and other environmental groups have called on the three partners to reject it on environmental grounds.

– Fragile ecosystem –

The main concern, they say, is that a large influx of water from the Red Sea could radically change the Dead Sea’s fragile ecosystem, forming gypsum crystals, and introducing red algae blooms.

In addition, leakage from the pipeline could contaminate groundwater along its route through southern Israel’s Arava Valley.

The Israeli ministry of environmental protection says that studies so far leave “vast uncertainty” and it is calling for a pilot project to be run on a limited scale to study the potential implications.

But critics contend that a small-scale pilot might not carry enough water to trigger the effects that it is intended to examine.

And for the Palestinians, the joint project raises more basic political issues such as Israel allowing them to develop that part of the shore which lies within the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“We would like to be in this cooperative project,” says Shaddad al-Attili, head of the Palestinian Water Authority. “We would like to be treated equally as well as the Jordanians and the Israelis; we would like to benefit from the outcome.

“But before all of that we would like to get access to the Dead Sea, not only to get water and to swim in the sea, but also to build hotels and to develop a tourist area.”

The Dead Sea’s mineral-rich waters and mud are considered therapeutic, while visitors love the novelty of floating in the brine which does not allow a person to sink. Israelis operate a number of tourist hotels and beaches along the western shoreline.

FoEME has called on the three partners to endorse a set of integrated actions including water recycling and conservation, rehabilitation of the lower Jordan River and even importing water from Turkey — one of three alternatives in a World Bank study that is estimated to be cheaper and have much less environmental impact than the Red-Dead option.

Prime Minister Nsur said Jordan wanted water to supply its northern regions, while Israel needs water in the south.

Jordanian officials say the 500,000 Syrian refugees that Jordan is hosting are stretching its meager water resources.

The majority of refugees are living in the north, particularly the Zaatari camp, home to about 130,000 Syrians.

Jordan had initially agreed in principle to build, along with the Palestinians and Israelis, an $11-billion pipeline from the Red Sea to resolve the problem.

But Water Minister Hazem Nasser said that due to the high cost of that project Jordan had decided to opt for its alternative plan, “which we call the ‘first phase’.”

Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

World Bank backs Red-Dead Sea canal

The World Bank finds that a large trans-border project to channel water from the Red Sea to the shrinking Dead Sea is feasible environmentally and economically.

By Ola Al-Ghazawy, Nature, Middle East
February 05, 2013

A lifeline to feed water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea that could save the famous salt lake from shrinking further has the backing of the World Bank, despite myriad environmental concerns.

The Dead Sea is falling at an alarming rate of 0.8 to 1.2 metres every year, largely due to water diversions from its main tributary, the Jordan River. Surveys suggest that a proposed 180-kilometre connection to convey water from the Red Sea to blend with the hypersaline waters of the Dead Sea may breathe life into it.

The project, which would be a partnership between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, all riparians of the Dead Sea, has raised the ire of environmentalists, who are worried it might destroy fragile natural areas such as Wadi Arabah, affect life in the Red Sea and change the Dead Sea chemical composition.

The World Bank’s draft report, a culmination of studies since 2005, considered three scenarios: no action taken; a simple canal connecting the two seas to stabilize the Dead Sea; and a canal that is accompanied by a desalination plant powered by the generation of hydroelectricity made possible by the 400m difference in elevation.

The Bank’s endorsement of the feasibility came as no surprise to some analysts. “We expected the World Bank to endorse the project because the political decision has already been taken to carry through with it,” says Batir Wardam, an environmental analyst in Jordan.

According to the report, the sea level will continue to drop if the heavy potash industries around the Dead Sea in Israel and Jordan continue production at the same rate. Even if they stop completely, the level will still decline, but at a slower rate, finally stabilizing at 550 metres below sea level in about 140 years. The impact on the tourism and chemical industries reliant on the Dead Sea will be significant.

Jordan is one of the ten most water-scarce countries in the world. Most of the country’s major surface water resources are shared by neighbouring Israel and Syria who use up most of the water before it reaches Jordan. Groundwater resources are overexploited, making them unsustainable in the long run.

This makes water desalination one of the options to secure the water future of Jordan. “The main goal for us out of this project is to desalinate the Red Sea waters to produce clean drinking water for Jordanians. It is a matter of water security for Jordan,” says Basem Telfah, secretary general of Jordan’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

Negative impacts

The study considered three possible methods of connecting the two seas: a tunnel; a tunnel and canal combination; and a pipeline conveyance. The latter will possibly have the lowest initial capital investment and be the most flexible in terms of its route it, thus preserving the many natural protectorates in the region.

However, it will demand the highest energy consumption due to the large pumping stations, estimated at about 1,920 GWh/year. It also has the largest carbon footprint and the highest running costs.

The three scenarios have their share of threatened impacts. Studies of the Red Sea show that environmental impact on habitats and water circulation will be minimal. While there isn’t enough data yet on how the project would affect the coral reefs there, the study suggests that placing the water intake more than 90 metres below sea surface will minimise the impact.

There is some worry that water from the canal or pipe carrying the water may contaminate the groundwater aquifers it passes through, but the report suggests that “numerous measures and construction arrangements” in the pipeline design can minimize the risk of leakage and their impacts.

In the Dead Sea, the mixing of the waters can change the chemical composition of the water causing its surface to take on a white colour due to precipitation of gypsum.

Environmentalists are worried the change in the sea’s chemical composition will alter the salinity and affect the bacteria living in the water. Dense microbial blooms of Dunaliella, a salt-tolerant unicellular green alga living in the Dead Sea, have been observed after heavy rain diluted the surface of the sea. Dilution by less saline water from the Red Sea might increase these blooms.

“You cannot really compare issues of bacteria with the amount of drinking water this project will secure for Jordan,” says Wardam. “I think all the environmental impacts can eventually be dealt with.”

High cost
Wadi Arabah is home to several natural protectorates, such as the Dana Natural Reserve.© Mohammed Yahia
“We are really disappointed that the World Bank has thrown out all the environmental and economic concerns we had and came up with this study,” says Munqeth Mehyar, director of the Jordanian Office for Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME).

According to the study, the project will require US$11 billion in capital. “This project is very important for Jordan, but neither we nor the Palestinian Authority have enough money for it,” says Telfah.

“The study states the capital can be raised through US$5 billion grant aids and donations and around $2.5 billion loans for each partner,” adds Mehyar. “The huge price tag of the project could bankrupt Jordan. We cannot afford this.”

However, according to the World Bank, the economic benefits of the project could surpass the costs by around US$1 billion.

Mehyar says that FoEME proposed an alternative approach in 2007 to save the Dead Sea through considering restoration of the Jordan River, its main source. While historically, the river fed the Dead Sea with 1.3 billion cubic metres of fresh water per year, this has trickled down to less than 100 million cubic metres, mainly comprising sewage. Israel, Syria and Jordan all draw on the Jordan River for drinking and agriculture and chemical industries.

Is the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal about to become reality?

The plan, estimated to cost almost $10 billion, has raised concerns among environmentalists in both Jordan and Israel.

By Zafrir Rinat, Ha’aretz
January 16, 2013

After almost a decade of arguments over the feasibility of a proposed pipeline between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, the World Bank released a series of reports over the weekend that declare the project feasible from an engineering, economic and environmental standpoint.

But while the Regional Development Ministry welcomed the reports as an important step toward implementing the project, the environmental group Friends of the Earth Middle East said the findings ought to definitively bury the idea.

The project’s goals are to stabilize the shrinking Dead Sea, supply water and electricity to countries in the area, especially Jordan, and engender regional cooperation that would promote peace. The World Bank concluded that without the pipeline, the Dead Sea would shrink by about 10 percent over the next 50 years, which would do major harm to tourism, local industries and the environment.

A panel of experts from several countries, including Jordan and Israel, then examined several alternative proposals for importing a large amount of water from the Red Sea. The best option, it concluded, was to build a pumping station near Aqaba that would pump the water to a high point, whence it would flow via a system of pipelines and a tunnel to the area south of the Dead Sea.

There, the world’s largest desalination plant would be built, with most of the desalinated water – about half a billion cubic meters a year – going to Jordan. The high-salinity water left over after the desalination process would be piped to the Dead Sea, to halt and eventually reverse its shrinkage. A hydroelectric plant would also be built, to supply electricity to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Altogether, the plan envisions almost two billion cubic meters of water a year being pumped from the Red Sea, most of which would eventually reach the Dead Sea. The World Bank estimated the total cost at almost $10 billion, but said much of this sum could be financed out of the profits from selling the desalinated water and electricity.

The bank acknowledged that the project would have some negative consequences for the environment: For instance, algae would likely start growing in the Dead Sea, and leakage from the pipes could raise the salinity of an important groundwater reservoir in the Arava. But it believes these problems could be dealt with, and recommended starting cautiously, with a small pilot project to bring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Nevertheless, it acknowledged that such a pilot would be of limited value in assessing the environmental impact.

Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of FOEME, said the negative environmental consequences cited in the reports ought to be enough by themselves to kill the project.

But in addition, he said, despite the bank’s finding that the project was economically viable, “it adds in small print that it would require assistance of $5 billion from the international community, and that Jordan would have to invest $2.5 billion in infrastructure that would bring the water to Amman. The bank forgets that there’s a global economic crisis, and that Jordan is on the verge of bankruptcy. The project will raise water prices in Jordan and cause riots.”

Jordan itself also recently voiced concern about the project’s cost, saying it would consider a smaller project that would just bring desalinated water from the Red Sea to Amman.

But the Regional Development Ministry welcomed the reports, even while noting that so far, the World Bank has merely posted them for public comment, and will issue its final recommendations only after reviewing these comments. Only then will Israel make its own decision.

“All the parties would benefit from the cooperation around this project, and it would save the Dead Sea, which is a wonder of the world,” explained Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom. “We’ll work to recruit influential parties to get the project implemented in practice.”

Notes and links
Project to replenish Dead Sea water levels confirmedBBC video, October 2013.

World Bank feasibility study, Red Sea Dead Sea conveyance

The Red Dead Canal, Friends of the Earth Middle East

Why water should be on the table

Gaza: drinking water is running out. Urgent petition

Water Resources in the West Bank pdf file.

Surface water
• There are approximately 400 measurable springs in the West Bank. Sixteen Palestinian communities are dependent on springs as their only source of drinking water. However, as springs are replenished by intermittent seasonal rainfall,
they are not a reliable source of water.

• The West Bank Wadis (valleys) have been subjugated to extensive contamination caused in part by Israeli restrictions
on Palestinian development of waste water collection and treatment and by unregulated wastewater dumping in the
West Bank (40% of it from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and from illegal settlements and Palestinian
neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem which, having been unilaterally annexed by Israel, come under full Israeli
jurisdiction). According to B’Tselem, by far the largest single polluted Wadi is Wadi Nar (Kidron) where 17.5 mcm/yr of
sewage emerges from Jerusalem. 3

• Palestinians have been denied access to the Jordan River, their main surface water resource, since 1967. Since Israel
diverted all of the flow of the Upper Jordan River at Lake Tiberias/the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River has been
reduced to a foul trickle (15%) causing a serious decline of 1m/yr in the Dead Sea level.

Total outflows (from wells & springs) in the three Mountain Aquifer basins, shared between the West Bank and Israel during the Oslo-period.

Total outflows (from wells & springs) in the three Mountain Aquifer basins, shared between the West Bank and Israel during the Oslo-period.

• The Mountain Aquifer is the main groundwater source in the West Bank. This aquifer is divided into three sub-basins
(The Western Aquifer, the Eastern Aquifer, and the Northeastern Aquifer). Around 80% of aquifer recharge occurs
inside the West Bank. Israel abstracts (pumps) much higher quantities of groundwater than Palestinians. Through its
military occupation Israel reserves itself 88% of the well pumpage from these 3 basins. According to the World Bank,
Israel abstracts about 80% of the ‘estimated potential’ of the Mountain Aquifer and continuously over-abstracts
beyond sustainable yields, in some years by more than 50%. This will cause irreversible long term damage to the
sustainability of this shared water resource.

• Palestinians must gain approval from the Joint Water Committee (a committee established under the Oslo Accords to
oversee the management of shared water resources, exclusively in the West Bank) to develop, maintain and even
operate their water resources. Whilst this committee is made up of an equal number of Palestinians and Israelis, it
grants Israel exclusive veto power over the West Bank and severely restricts Palestinian water resource development.

Since 1967, not one permit has been granted to Palestinians to drill a new well in the Western Aquifer, the most productive aquifer basin. Since Oslo, not one new permit for agricultural wells was issued. 120 old Palestinian agricultural wells cannot be operated, lacking JWC approval for repair and maintenance. If any water project is located in Area C, an official “permit” has to be obtained from the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) in Bet El.
• Unlike the Western and Northeastern Aquifers, the Eastern Aquifer is almost completely situated within the borders of the West Bank (with no relevant in- or out-flows from

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