Red Dead Canal
On December 9th, 2013, an MoU for a water exchange agreement was signed in Washington.  Although the politicians are tagging this as the 'Red Dead Canal' project, it is far from it.  Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of FoEME, explains it well in this op-ed The Red-Dead pipe dream.  Read more in our media release on the issue too...
Introduction to the Read Dead Canal Project:
FoEME is closely monitoring the proposed building of a water conveyance linking the Read Sea to the Dead Sea. The building of this canal raises many environmental concerns. The project aims to pump vast quantities of water from the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba, transporting the water through a series of canals and tunnels up over the coastal ridge and down to the Dead Sea, situated 427 meters below sea level. The conveyance would be utilized to generate hydroelectricity and desalinate water, with drinking water to be pumped to regional population centers and desalination brine discharged into the Dead Sea, in an attempt to arrest its decline. There has been renewed interest in the project as expressed by Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian government officials who are promoting the project as an initiative to cement peace in the region. The project has an estimated cost of US $10 billion and could take up to 20 years to complete, requiring extensive international technical and financial support. The World Bank is currently undertaking a feasibility study and social and environmental impact assessment at a cost of US $15.5 million which are scheduled to be completed in 2011.

FoEME has conducted an independent socio-economic and environmental assessment of the proposed Red Sea - Dead Sea water conveyance ("the RDC project"), funded by USAID's MERC program. Research partners included the Geological Survey of Israel, which studied potential environmental impacts on the Arava Valley and the Dead Sea; the Royal Scientific Society (Jordan) which studied potential environmental impacts on the Gulf of Aqaba / Eilat; and the Water and Environment Development Organization (a Palestinian NGO) that together with the Royal Scientific Society studied the socio-economic effects of the proposed water conveyance.

This research places FoEME in a unique position as a well-informed stakeholder, providing a strong basis upon which to form a position on the RDC project and launch a public campaign.

The building of this water conveyance raises many questions, such as:

1. What impact will the pumping of vast quantities of seawater out of the Gulf of Aqaba have on the fragile coral reefs in this area?

2. What changes will occur to the natural landscape of the Arava Valley both during the construction of the proposed 110 mile water conveyance and after?

3. What will happen when the Dead Sea is 'filled up' and can no longer receive desalination brine generated from the desalination activities of the project?

4. How will the threat posed by gypsum and other microorganism growth from the mixing of Red Sea and Dead Sea waters be addressed? Will toxic odours be released as a result of the mixing of the two seas, scaring away tourists?

5. Will control over pumping, desalinated water production, and distribution be handed over to private, for-profit business concerns? If so, what kinds of guarantees exist to protect the public's interests?

6. What kinds of solutions will be found for silt and potential leakage of water during transport?

7. Will changing the chemical composition of the Dead Sea result in loss of its unique characteristics? In particular, the health benefits that lead to tourism?

8. Will man made lakes and other infrastructures be built as part of the project in the Arava Valley?

9. Will decisions regarding this project be made in consultation with environmental NGO's, local communities, and experts not on the payroll of governments and business concerns?

10. Should a project that raises such serious environmental concerns move forward without a thorough independent assessment of possible alternatives such as the rehabilitation of the Jordan River to arrest the decline of the Dead Sea, as required by World Bank guidelines?

FoEME is deeply concerned that the World Bank study process does not adequately address these questions and has directly raised its position though presentations at public consultations as well as through direct meetings with World Bank officials. FoEME has also raised a number of additional concerns regarding flaws in the World Bank study process itself, these include the following:

A. After repeated calls for a study of alternatives to the RDC project for arresting the decline of the Dead Sea, such as water demand management and the rehabilitation of the Jordan River, the World Bank finally agreed in December 2007 to incorporate a study of alternatives into its feasibility study and social and environmental impact assessment. However this 'alternatives study' has been entrusted to consultants hand picked by the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian governments and fails to meet any test of independence and comprehensiveness. This important study should be undertaken in an independent and comprehensive fashion by the international consultants already hired by the World Bank for the feasibility study and environmental assessment. The failure on the part of the Bank to allow the international consultants to look at the broader questions of regional water management and alternatives to the RDC project is in FoEME's opinion a breach of World Bank operational guidelines, undermines the credibility of its study process and prevents the compilation of important data. Additionally, from documents leaked to FoEME, FoEME understands that the terms of reference for the alternatives study will look at 12 possible options as alternatives to the RDC project, but allows only 12 months to complete the task, leaving only 6 months for actual study. In the opinion of FOEME, this is an entirely inadequate period of time for any serious studies to be conducted. FoEME is calling for the terms of reference for the alternatives study to be made public immediately.

B. A range of development plans for the Arava Valley have been put forward by parties in both Israel and Jordan that are linked to or directly benefit from the RDC project. Plans include the construction of artificial lakes in the Arava Valley, as well as multiple residential, commercial, industrial and resort areas. These development plans are highly relevant to the World Bank's social and environmental impact assessment, yet their impacts are not set to be studied in any detail. FoEME is calling on the World Bank to revise the terms of reference for its social and environmental impact assessment to incorporate the significant environmental and social implications of these associated development plans into its studies.

C. The high level of scientific certainty required for a World Bank project that would make recommendations concerning the linking of two seas necessitates a high level of transparency and public disclosure. A review of the timetable set for the feasibility study and social and environmental impact assessments reveals that only 12 months are allocated for new scientific investigation and/or modeling of the possible impacts of the proposed water conduit on the Gulf of Aqaba, Arava Valley and Dead Sea itself. FoEME is concerned that a 12-month period of study reflects insufficient time and resources being allocated for the task and therefore requests that the World Bank make public all documents related to decisions and/or compromises made by the Bank and the international consultants hired as regards the level of scientific study. Disclosure of the full scope and all pertinent details of these studies are requested as between the World Bank and the international consultant teams hired and as between the international consultants and the local consultants to be hired to undertake sub-studies as detailed in the Bank's terms of reference.

D. Given the complexity of the proposed project and the major irreversible consequences it may have, the World Bank has now appointed an Independent Panel of Experts (IPE) to oversee the studies. However it is not clear what powers if any the IPE will have to address deficiencies in the study process and to challenge its results. FoEME is calling on the World Bank to make public the terms of reference for the IPE and to direct the IPE to review the adequacy of the terms of reference for the feasibility study and social and environmental impact assessment themselves.

Aside from concerns with the World Bank study process, recent developments indicate that the Jordanian and Israeli governments are now looking to push ahead with the implementation of the RDC project without even awaiting the findings of the feasibility study and social and environmental impact assessment. Jordan has instigated preparations for what it is calling the "Jordan Red Sea Project" which is a replication of the proposed "Red Sea - Dead Sea Water Conveyance project" currently the subject of World Bank studies, only on a smaller, first stage, scale. Similarly, Israeli government representatives have publicly announced plans for a "pilot project" similar in nature to that proposed by Jordan. These competing projects, rather than cementing peace, have now become a source of friction between the governments involved.

These plans make a mockery of the World Bank's study process by creating facts on the ground before the impacts of the proposed project and the optimal design of any water conveyance are understood. World Bank staff have responded by claiming these projects are different to the RDC project. However, the Jordanian government has now issued a request for expressions of interests from developers for the Jordan Red Sea Project, explicitly outlining its intention to extract water from the Red Sea, to produce desalinated drinking water and to discharge excess sea water and desalination brine into the Dead Sea. The World Bank cannot sustain its position that the mooted Israeli and Jordanian projects are fundamentally different to the RDC project that is the subject of current studies.
FoEME is now calling on the World Bank to announce publicly that unless the Israeli and Jordanian governments halt projects which preempt the outcome of the feasibility study and social impact assessment, the World Bank will withdraw from the study process. Plans to commence development of a Red Sea - Dead Sea water conveyance before the potentially serious social and environmental impacts of such an action are understood, not only render the World Bank's study meaningless, but are also likely to cause untold environmental destruction. Such action is irresponsible and amounts to a slap in the face to the World Bank and the international community which have committed resources to studying (albeit as part of a somewhat flawed process) the feasibility and anticipated impacts of the water conveyance.
See Senate Resolution in reference to the Red Dead project and the Jordan River
Press Release