Jordan plans own Red-Dead canal without Israel

According to the Boston Herald and The Jordan Times, Jordan will pursue the long-talked about canal project between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea without Israel.  According to news reports, Jordan declared its intention this past Sunday at the 2009 World Economic Forum in the Middle East, held at the Dead Sea in Jordan.  The original plan had called for Jordan to cooperate with Israel on the canal and the World Bank was in the midst of assessing the feasibility of the joint project.  Now that Jordan has decided to go it alone, it has dubbed its project “Jordan National Red Sea Water Development Project” in order to differentiate it from the original “Red-Dead Canal” proposal.


The purpose behind the project is two-fold.  The first is to provide desalinated water to one of the most parched regions of the world.  Red Sea water will be channeled through pipelines to a desalination facility that, using the elevation difference between the Red Sea (at sea level) and the Dead Sea (approximately 400 meters below sea level), is expected to provide 120 mcm of fresh water annually by 2014, and eventually at full capacity, as much as 700 mcm.  The second rationale for the project is to revive the “dying” Dead Sea, which over the past 20 or 30 years, has lost about one-third of its area and dropped more than 30 meters.  The Sea has been desiccated for the same reasons that the Aral Sea has been drying out (see my prior post on the Aral Sea) – because of Israeli and Jordanian upstream diversions from the Jordan River (the Dead Sea’s principle source of water) that have reduced the river’s inflow to as little as five percent of natural historical natural flows (check out the website and Photo Album of Friends of the Earth Middle East on the Dead Sea). The idea is to take the salts removed in the desalination process and pump them back into the remaining waters used to fill the heavily saline Dead Sea (10 times the salinity of sea water).


That Jordan is going it alone may not be much of a surprise.  Jordan has been frustrated with environmentalists in Israel who have long challenged the plan as an environmentally destructive plan. They cite the different chemistries of Red Sea and Dead Sea water and the potential alteration of the chemical makeup that makes the Dead Sea so distinctive as well as the possible impact on currents in the Red Sea that could threaten the Red Sea’s unique coral life (see, for example, the campaign of Friends of the Earth Middle East).  Without the obstacles of the Israeli environmentalists, Jordan, which only has a nascent environmental movement, can move forward at its own whim.


Of course, a critical question will be whether Jordan can secure the necessary funds for the project, which is expected to cost around $5-$10 billion and to take 30 years to complete.  Without Israel and in the context of a peace initiative (some have dubbed the original Red-Dead Canal project as the “Peace Canal”), that may be difficult.  But that may be part of Jordan’s strategy to overcome the environmental opposition and pressure Israel to commit to the plan.  And Jordan’s tactic may be working.  Not long after Jordan’s announced its intentions to move forward with its own plan, Israel’s Water Authority expressed its hope that a cooperative arrangement could yet be achieved.  And Israel certainly has good reasons to want to take part in this project – while the majority of the benefits from a Red-Dead canal will accrue to Jordan, Israel would still benefit considerably from fresh water in its Arava Valley, as well as a revived Dead Sea.  According to the news reports, Jordan does not intend its new canal to replace the Red-Dead Canal Project.  Would that allow for the possibility of two canals?  Highly unlikely.

4 Responses to “Jordan plans own Red-Dead canal without Israel”

  1. World Bank was in the midst of assessing the feasibility of the joint project. I confess whenever I see the WORLD BANK, or WTO, or IMF, I rather blindly at first see “red” and admit to anger as my reading reveals their joint legacy is skewed to benefit “for-profit-corporate” interests at the expense of the country’s citizens. So I don’t know if the decision by Jordon to go it alone is as unwise as it might at first blush appear. From a “holistic” perspective it does not appear beneficial, but then that’s an easy position for me to take as I live in the United States and currently in an area with adequate water but with its own longer term water dilemma to face.

  2. Gabriel Eckstein (IWLP blogger) says:

    Hi Paul. Thanks for your comment. As far as I know, the World Bank is continuing with its feasibility assessment, which comports with Jordan’s position that its project is not intended to replace the original joint Jordanian-Israeli project. As two canals sounds like a rather preposterous idea, my sense is that Jordan is merely trying to pressure Israel to overcome the environmental opposition to the project. But, as you imply in your e-mail, there is a great deal of politics and other issues (not least of which is the extent to which the Palestinians might enjoy any benefits from a Med-Dead canal) complicating the situation. Time will tell …

  3. Hi,

    I quite agree with the idea that this unilateral project does not intend to replace the initial Red-Dead Canal. To my mind, Jordan is trying to shush Israeli background noises, like for example the Tshuva scheme, alternative pipe plan presented by an Israeli private developer that aims at transforming the Arava Valley into a new Vegas. On its side, Jordan does not have any counterpart to this type of projects. Moreover, all the stakeholders involved, and all the more Israeli, know how dependent Jordan is on this project. Therefore, the Hashemite Kingdom found itself in a “weak” position that this announcement could reverse. When listening to Jordan Authorities not longer than a month ago, it was obvious that the country would never have the financial resources to start its own project, unless asking the help of the Gulf States. But I doubt those would be willing to dive into such a thorny issue…

  4. Gabriel Eckstein (IWLP blogger) says:

    Thanks for your comments and insight Benjamin. As you imply, there is definitely a political dimension that must be understood. For Jordan, they require assurances that they will not be dependent on Israel, especially for water. I suspect that the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian agreement that included Israel providing water to Jordan from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) was somewhat difficult for Jordan. On the one hand, they need Israel’s cooperation to maximize efficiency; on the other hand, they have to distance themselves from and give an impression of equality (if not superiority) with Israel for the benefit of relations with their Arab brethren. As you suggest, since Jordan does not have an equivalent development project to the Tshuva endeavor, they could be perceived as weak among the Arab community. For the sake of Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians, and the rest of the region, I would hope that such political maneuvering could someday be overcome.