Make the Desert Bloom
Israel and Jordan Agree on Red-Dead Canal

Some rare good news out of the Middle East: Israel and Jordan have issued a joint tender for an approximately $750m canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The Times of London reports:

The 180-kilometre (111-mile) pipeline will carry 200 million cubic metres of water annually from the Red Sea, at the southern tip of both countries.

About a third of the water will be desalinated and pumped to towns and farms in Israel and southern Jordan. The brackish by-product will be pumped north and dumped in the Dead Sea, which is receding at a rate of about one metre each year. The canal on the Jordanian side of the border will take five years to complete and marks the most ambitious joint project since the countries signed a peace treaty in 1994.[..]

A canal was proposed more than a decade ago, and the two countries agreed to build it in 2013. The Palestinian Authority also signed the agreement because part of the sea is in the occupied West Bank.

Israel and Jordan issued a tender for the project yesterday. Officials said that the winning contractor would dig the canal and operate it for 25 years. The project is expected to receive funding from the US, the European Union and the World Bank, which has studied the scheme and declared it feasible.

This is good news for Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestianians on the economic front: more of the desert will bloom. That in turn means more peaceful economic ties, and productive interactions between the three nations.

It’s also great news for the environment—because the Red Sea is in real trouble:

Scientists believe that it will vanish by 2050. Its main source of water, the Jordan River, has been heavily diverted for agriculture in Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Water scarcity is a running sore in relations across the region. Mining operations around the Dead Sea also suck up vast quantities of water.

A third of the sea has already dried up and the remaining portion has receded by more than 30 metres since 1977. The evaporating sea has become a danger on the Israeli side, where hundreds of sinkholes appear every year, some as deep as a two-storey building. They have sucked in power lines.

Israel has a long history of successful diplomacy through civic engineering projects (see for instance this account of how Israeli experts helped run water projects in Iran under the Shah). As the most advanced state in a region beset with governance problems, it has a real advantage in this area. Mutually beneficial projects such as this one, the hope goes, should have a virtuous cycle effect—as cooperation leads to increased benefits for both sides, both sides look for more cooperation, and so peace results.

This single project won’t overnight transform the Israel’s position in the region. But it’s good news—and right now, that should be celebrated where we can get it.

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