Can you pump water out of one sea to fill another? It may sound crazy, but plans are afoot to make it a reality. While the World Bank has called the plan to fill the Dead Sea with water from the Red Sea “ambitious and controversial,” Israel’s government says it’s ready to work with Jordan to make the 110-mile pipeline a reality.
At the heart of the proposal is a serious matter: water security. The Dead Sea has shrunk by 30% over the past two decades, according to Environmental Justice Atlas. And that desiccation is forecast to continue and even to speed up, putting water supplies for Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians at risk. The distribution of water and other resources in the region has been a contentious issue against a backdrop of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
“The Palestinian territories face significant and growing shortfalls in the water supply available for domestic use,” a World Bank report says. “The domestic supply gap is projected to dramatically increase unless supply and service options are expanded.” Increased use of fresh water from the Jordan River is part of the reason, with more taken out before it reaches the Dead Sea, contributing to an annual decline in the level of more than 1.2 meters. Under the new plan, around 300 million cubic metres of sea water would be pumped from the Red Sea each year in the first phase, followed by as much as 2 billion cubic metres in subsequent phases.
A World Bank feasibility study outlined the risks of not addressing the issue and said the pipeline could also form a symbol of peace in a region that’s lived through years of tensions. Even so, the project is controversial because the Dead Sea is considered unique by environmentalists and scientists. They say the introduction of Red Sea water containing living organisms like bacteria and algae could alter salinity and evaporation and unbalance the ecosystem.
Analysts have also criticised the project, with some saying it will only partially solve the water scarcity problem, providing around 10% of the volume of water that the region needs as its population grows. Water scarcity is explored in the World Economic Forum’s report on Water and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which looks at how technology could be harnessed to help. It highlights a “pressing need” for new public policies and business strategies and explores the different ways tech can be deployed, such as monitoring water use and improving water supply chains and desalination. “Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies alone will not solve water security challenges,” say the reports’ authors. “They can support and help inform decision makers from governments and other sectors only if these solutions are designed together with the engagement and commitment of diverse stakeholder groups – incumbents, start-ups and entrants from other sectors.”
Credit: Emma Charlton for World Economic Forum, 11 January 2019.