Why the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal may never happen

The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal was a grand vision to revive the dying Dead Sea by pumping water from the Red Sea through a pipeline across the Middle East. The project aimed to produce hydroelectricity, desalinate seawater, and restore the ecological balance of the Dead Sea. However, the project was abandoned in 2021 due to political and environmental challenges, and its future remains uncertain.

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, and one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. It is also a natural wonder and a tourist attraction, with its mineral-rich waters and muds that have therapeutic benefits. However, the Dead Sea is facing a serious threat: it is shrinking at an alarming rate of more than one meter per year, and its surface area has shrunk by about 33% since the 1960s.

The main reason for the decline of the Dead Sea is the diversion of most of the flow of the Jordan River, which is the main source of freshwater for the Dead Sea. The Jordan River has been overexploited by Israel, Jordan, and Syria for irrigation and drinking water, leaving only a fraction of its original flow to reach the Dead Sea. As a result, the Dead Sea is losing more water through evaporation than it receives from inflow, causing its water level to drop and its salinity to increase.

The shrinking of the Dead Sea has serious consequences for the environment and the economy of the region. The receding shoreline has created sinkholes that endanger infrastructure and agriculture. The loss of water has also affected the biodiversity and the microclimate of the Dead Sea basin. Moreover, the Dead Sea is a source of income and employment for many people who depend on its tourism, industry, and research.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal was a bold plan to save the Dead Sea

To address the crisis of the Dead Sea, several proposals have been made to bring water from other sources to replenish its water level. One of the most ambitious and controversial plans was the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal (RSDSC), which envisioned a pipeline of 177 kilometers (110 miles) that would connect the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, taking advantage of the 400-meter difference in elevation between the seas.

The RSDSC was proposed in the late 1960s and was analyzed as part of the peace process between Israel and Jordan. The project had multiple objectives: to produce hydroelectricity from the water flow, to desalinate seawater to provide potable water to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, and to stabilize the water level of the Dead Sea by bringing water with a high concentration of salts from the desalination process (reject brine) to the Dead Sea.

The project was planned to be carried out by Jordan and was entirely in Jordanian territory. It was estimated to cost $10 billion, with the first phase costing $1.1 billion and starting construction in 2021. The project was supported by several international donors, including the World Bank, the European Union, and the United States.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal faced many obstacles and criticisms

However, the RSDSC was not without challenges and criticisms. The project faced political, environmental, and economic hurdles that eventually led to its cancellation in 2021.

One of the main obstacles was the lack of political will and cooperation among the parties involved. The project required the approval and coordination of Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the consent of other countries bordering the Red Sea, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. However, the relations among these actors were strained by the ongoing conflict and instability in the Middle East, especially the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The project also faced opposition from some civil society groups and activists who argued that the project was a diversion from the core issues of the conflict and a violation of the rights of the Palestinians.

Another major challenge was the environmental impact and feasibility of the project. The project raised concerns about the potential ecological and geological consequences of mixing the waters of the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, which have different chemical and biological properties. Some experts warned that the introduction of foreign water could alter the unique characteristics and functions of the Dead Sea, such as its color, buoyancy, and mineral composition. The project also posed risks of water leakage, pipeline damage, and seismic activity along the route of the pipeline.

Furthermore, the project was questioned for its economic viability and sustainability. The project was criticized for being too costly and complex, and for relying on external funding and technology. Some analysts argued that the project was not the best solution to address the water scarcity and energy needs of the region, and that there were cheaper and more efficient alternatives, such as water conservation, wastewater reuse, and renewable energy sources. The project also faced competition from other water projects in the region, such as the Mediterranean-Dead Sea Canal and the Red Sea-Red Sea Canal.

The future of the Dead Sea is uncertain

The RSDSC was officially abandoned in 2021, when Jordan announced that it would opt out of the project due to the lack of progress and support from Israel and the international community. Jordan said that it would pursue other options to secure its water and energy needs, such as building a desalination plant on the Red Sea coast and expanding its solar power capacity.

The cancellation of the RSDSC was a blow to the hopes of saving the Dead Sea, which continues to shrink and deteriorate. The future of the Dead Sea is uncertain, as no other viable and comprehensive plan has been proposed or implemented to restore its water level and ecological balance. The Dead Sea may soon become a dead lake, unless a regional and global effort is made to revive it.

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