The Dead Sea - A Sea that is Sadly "Living" up to its NameWritten by Haitham Sabbah
A couple of weeks ago, news headlines mentioned lightly new "Israel, Arabs agreement to save Dead Sea:"
Jordan , Israel and Palestinian Authority said they had agreed terms for a feasibility study on transferring water from Red Sea to Dead Sea, to save world's lowest sea from vanishing.
The two-year study, costing 15 million dollars, will investigate social and environmental impact of conveying large quantities of water through a 200-kilometer (120-mile) conduit between two seas.
Following feasibility study, project will take around five years to complete. But project in its second phase involves building power generation and water desalination plants to supply electricity and fresh water to Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
Ok, so what's in it? If I'm not mistaken, this means following:
1. If feasibility study starts now, that is June 2005, it will finish June 2007. 2. If feasibility study say go, and being optimistic project starts by Jan 2008. 3. Trusting that funds will not be disturbed like 'Disi Project Funds' (Arabic), phase one should be ready by 2013. 4. No news when phase two is suppose to finish!
Will Dead Sea "live" until then?
Well, when Ein Gedi Spa opened in 1986 to pamper visitors with massages, mud wraps and therapeutic swims, customers walked just a few steps from main building to take their salty dip in Dead Sea. Nineteen years later, the water level has dropped so drastically that shoreline is three-quarters of a mile away. A red tractor hauls customers to spa's beach and back in covered wagons. See full article by John Ward Anderson, in Washington Post Foreign Service.
The water level of Dead Sea has declined over 21 m from 1930 to 1997, and alone 12 m in last 20 years. In less than a century water level has fallen by approximately 25 m. In past few years, water level fell at a rate of 80-100 cm per year, with average rate of fall accelerating in recent years. As a result, Dead Sea surface area has shrunk by about 30% in last 20 years.[source]
At current rate, more shallow southern part of sea will be gone less than 50 years.
Several projects have been proposed over years to save Dead Sea, and one that now seems most likely to be carried out is that of a pipeline from Red Sea to Dead Sea. This plan is not new. Already in 19th century, when actual level of Dead Sea was first measured, plans were developed to use height difference to create a hydroelectric power plant. Most plans focused on a canal from Mediterranean to Dead Sea.
Even though these plans to save Dead Sea have been well received by many, there are also drawbacks. What will happen if water from Dead Sea and from Red Sea are mixed? There are studies that suggest that Dead Sea would turn white, or even pink. Withdrawing large bodies of water from Gulf of Aqaba might seriously upset and possibly destroy its already fragile ecosystem. Ecological investigations have only just begun.
And what about archaeology of region? One aspect that has received virtually no attention so far is impact that construction of a pipeline, let alone a canal, would have on Wadi Arabah and especially hill country between bottom and eastern plateau, which is an area with a rich history covering every period from Palaeolithic to late Islamic. Hundreds of sites have been found here in a number of surveys, and since area has still only been partly surveyed, hundreds of sites are still waiting to be discovered. Therefore, regardless of what route pipeline/canal will take, it is bound to affect tens, maybe hundreds of archaeological sites, many of which have only been recorded in surveys, but never extensively investigated.
Even if project takes place, there is maybe a 20- to 30-year lifetime for this project because that is how long it will take for Dead Sea to regain its natural level. On other hand, when you consider vast capital costs, economic and political sense is not clear. Also, because desalinated water will need to be pumped long distances and to a high altitude to get where it is needed, cost of water will be very high.
Countries with less than 500 cubic metres of water per year are described as suffering from scarcity of water. The UK has around 1,500 cubic metres per person, Israel 340, Jordan 140, and Palestinian Authority only 70.
The Red Sea-Dead Sea canal is expected to generate 850 million cubic metres of drinkable water, almost existing annual water use of Jordan, which would be divided between Jordan, Israel and Palestinian Authority.
The Role of Scenarios in Dead Sea Project:
The role of scenarios is to create a number of realistic scenarios for possible futures of Dead Sea Basin. These scenarios will reflect trajectories or future directions that differ from one another and therefore offer leaders and policy makers in region opportunity to test present strategies for water management and perhaps develop new ones. The time frame of scenarios is from 2005 to 2025. Three driving forces were assumed to have an order of magnitude impacts on system. These were:
1. The level of Cooperation between three riparian countries;
2. The role agriculture will play in future; and
3. The type of investment in water related projects
The following are brief summaries of realistic scenarios. It is worth mentioning here that scenarios were result of synthesis and deliberations first amongst project partners and second of information collected in Focus group Meetings and from participation in relevant conferences and workshops.