Fri, Jan 04, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Israel to approve Dead Sea water project with Jordan


Israel is ready to move ahead with a multibillion-dollar project with Jordan to pipe water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, an idea that has been on the drawing board for years, Israeli Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi said

Hanegbi said he expects the Israeli Cabinet to approve the Red Sea–Dead Sea Water Conveyance, which is to bring water from the Red Sea to a desalination center in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba.

The brine byproduct is to be piped 200km north to the Dead Sea, a salt lake bordered by Jordan to the east, and Israel and the West Bank to the west, the severe shrinkage of which has created a slew of environmental problems.

Each country is to pledge US$40 million per year to the project for 25 years, Hanegbi said.

That would bring the total to at least US$2 billion.

The Jordanian Ministry of Water did not respond to a request for comment.

The project could help to relieve a dire water shortage in Jordan and Palestinian authorities would be able to buy the desalinated water at cost, Hanegbi said.

It is also meant to alleviate the evaporation of the Dead Sea, where Jordan and Israel harvest potash and do a brisk tourism business. A hydroelectric plant is to provide power to both countries.

The neighbors in 2013agreed to work together on the project, but implementation has been delayed by political tensions including stalled Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and the 2017 killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli security guard at the Israeli embassy in Amman.

Jordan is expected to exhaust its underground freshwater sources within the next 40 years, according to Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization.

Israel sees the collaboration as a way to improve ties with Jordan, which have remained frosty despite a 1994 peace agreement.

“This is important for regional cooperation,” Hanegbi said in a telephone interview. “[Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was convinced that peace has a price, and he agreed to it.”

Hanegbi’s comments come a week after Netanyahu called early elections, moving up the vote from November to April. Netanyahu has made improving ties with the Arab world a priority during his past term.

Hanegbi said that Israel’s decision on the water project was not connected to the elections and followed months of behind-the-scenes talks with his Jordanian counterpart.

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat also was involved in the negotiations, Hanegbi said.

“This is the largest joint project in the Middle East between Israel and an Arab state,” Hanegbi said. “Jordan has severe water issues and Israel wants to maintain Jordan’s stability. It’s the country with which we have our longest border.”

A 2014 World Bank feasibility study on the project said that if no action is taken, the area near the Dead Sea would suffer from further sinkholes, mud flats and landslides that would affect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, tourism and the chemical industry.

The lake’s water level is declining by more than 1m each year.

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