Environmentalists, historians, and politicians alike are concerned about the shrinking of the Dead Sea over the past 40 years. Population pressure on water resources in the region and the management of the Jordan River basin, which feeds the lake, have contributed to the steady drop in the level of the Dead Sea – at a rate of more than one meter per year, by some estimates.
In 2005, the governments of the three countries surrounding the Dead Sea – Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories – agreed on a way to halt the sea’s decline. The proposed solution entails building a 110 mile canal and tunnel system to transfer water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The three parties asked the World Bank to oversee the implementation of a feasibility study and environmental and social assessment for the project in accordance with the Bank’s policies and guidelines.
Restoring the water level in the Dead Sea is not the project’s only objective. Project proponents aim to utilize the transfer of water from the Red Sea, which is at an altitude 400 meters above that of the Dead Sea, to generate hydroelectric power. Perhaps of even higher priority is the use of the project to boost water supplies to the riparian countries. The transferred water will undergo a desalination process on its way from the Red Sea in order to extract drinking water for use by populations in Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
All three countries suffer from severe water scarcity, defined as per capita water supply of less than 500 cubic meters of water per year. The deposit of the residual concentrated salt water (or “brine”) in the Dead Sea raises concerns about potential damage to the sea’s chemical composition and biology.
The feasibility study for the project is expected to take about 2 years and will cost $15.5 million. The study is to be financed through a multi-donor trust fund, and the project itself could cost as much as $5 billion and take up to 20 years to complete.