New life for the Dead Sea

Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians join forces to counter a regional water crisis

Once every two weeks, families in Jordan turn on the taps and pipe up to four cubic metres of drinking water into their rooftop tanks. It’s only a third of the amount they need – and it’s all they get. “People suffer a lot,” says Nabil Zoubi, project director of an ambitious venture to use the waters of the Red Sea to alleviate the shortage and to revitalise the Dead Sea.

“Jordan will have running water three days per week, instead of the current eight hours every
two weeks.”

One of the world's driest countries, Jordan lacks sufficient fresh water for its growing population and the 1.3 million Syrian refugees it hosts. Water is also a problem in Israel and in Palestine, and it is worsening with climate change. Meanwhile, the diversion of Dead Sea feedwater has caused the biblical lake to shrink, sparking environmental problems.

Under the plan, seawater from the Red Sea will be turned into drinking water. The brine – the high-saline solution left over after the desalination – will be transferred into the Dead Sea by a 180 km pipeline, reducing the decline in its water level. In Jordan there will be running water three days a week, instead of the current eight hours every two weeks.

Another benefit: as the Dead Sea is the lowest point in the world, the water will channel down over 600 metres, generating 32 megawatts of hydroelectricity a year.

The EIB has mobilised an EU-funded technical assistance agreement worth EUR 2 million for the project. The French government agency that promotes sustainable development, Agence française de développement, is working with the EIB to ensure the project’s success.

Water swapping and sharing

The idea of a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea dates back to the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan in 1994. But it was only in 2013 that Israel, Jordan and Palestine signed a memorandum of understanding on the current plan.

The Red Sea-Dead Sea project contributes to the EIB’s Economic Resilience Initiative, a major programme to boost investment in the region. The EIB is also considering a EUR 60 million loan alongside financing from French, Italian and Spanish development agencies to the Government of Jordan for supporting its contribution to the project.

This joint EU financial package may be blended with a EUR 40 million grant from the EU-funded Neighbourhood Investment Facility. “The EU is supporting this massive project with an integrated approach,” says EU Ambassador to Jordan Andrea Fontana. “There are EU grants, money pledged by Italy, France, Spain, and it is all coordinated by the AFD and the EIB.” The project should also benefit from a USD 100 million grant from USAID.

The EIB is also expected to provide a loan of up to EUR 200 million to the company that wins the tender for the project.