Israel, Jordan, Palestinians sign ‘historic’ water agreement

A pipeline will be built to channel water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and help manage water scarcity

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Israel, Palestinians and Jordan signed on Monday an agreement to support the management of scarce water resources and the joint development and use of new water resources through sea water desalination.

The project includes the development of a desalination plant in Aqaba at the head of the Red Sea, where the water produced will be shared between Israel and Jordan; increased releases of water by Israel from Lake Tiberias for use in Jordan; and the sale of about 20-30 million m3/year of desalinated water from Mekorot (the Israeli water utility) to the Palestinian Water Authority for use in the West Bank.

The project will also see a180-kilometer (111-mile) pipeline built to channel water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and help manage water scarcity.

About 200 cubic meters of water per year will be channeled, after being desalinated at the plant built in Jordan and then sent for use in Jordan and Israel.

“I am pleased that the long term engagement of the World Bank has facilitated this next step by the three governments, which will enhance water availability and facilitate the development of new water through desalination,” said Inger Andersen, Regional Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa, on behalf of the World Bank at the signing ceremony.

The deal was lauded by Israel's Water and Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom as “historic” but it elicited criticism from experts and environmentalists, Associated Press reported.

Eli Raz, a geologist and biologist at Israel's Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, praised the project as a symbol of regional cooperation, but said it would do little to alleviate the Dead Sea's woes. The Dead Sea is losing roughly 1 billion cubic meters of water each year, he said, while the project would only return about 10 percent of that amount.

“As a symbol, it's very good. In respect for the Dead Sea, the deficit, the water balance, this is nothing,” he said, according to AP.

A larger project envisioned in the past, linking either the Red Sea or the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea via a large canal, remains unlikely. Raz said such ideas have suffered from high costs and environmental concerns.

Mira Edelstein, from the Friends of the Earth Middle East environmental group, said the plan threatens the “environmental sensitivity” of the Dead Sea.

The pipeline is expected to cost between $300-400 million and set to be completed within three years of a tender announcement in 2014. It was not immediately clear who would fund the project.

(With AP)

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