Posted by: EcoPeace Middle East | March 13, 2013

Red-Dead Sea conveyance briefing

Public Briefing: The World Bank Presentation

Gidon Bromberg presenting at the briefing

Gidon Bromberg presenting at the briefing

On February 19, 2013 in a beautiful Jerusalem neighborhood overlooking the Old City Walls, the auditorium where the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conduit briefing took place was filled to the brim. The gathering presented an opportunity to review and respond to the World Bank Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Study Program, ongoing since 2004. For the World Bank’s Study Program site click here. For further background information on the Red Dead Conduct Project, please view the following webpage on FoEME’s website.

Alexander McPhail, Study Program Manager with the World Bank began the briefing with a presentation. The World Bank is currently responsible for providing independent support, acting as a neutral party in the process of developing the Project, mobilizing funding and managing project consultants for the Program. The World Bank has defined the project’s main objectives as (1) saving the Dead Sea from environmental degradation, (2) creating opportunities for more affordable hydro-power and desalination, and (3)promoting a symbol of peaceful cooperation between Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian governments.

During his presentation, McPhail presented three feasible options moving forward: Red Sea to Dead Sea transfer of water, Mediterranean Sea to Dead Sea transfer of water, or the option to utilize a combination of techniques including desalination at both Aqaba and Mediterranean Sea sites coupled with importation of water from Turkey and water recycling and conservation efforts. The World Bank chose the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance as the “Identified Option.” Simply put, this involves transferring seawater from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea Basin. McPhail spoke to the relative ease of developing hydropower, creating potable water through desalination, and infusing desalination brine to “stabilize” Dead Sea water levels if the “Identified Option” is to be used. To date, a full Environmental and Social Action Plan/Resettlement Plan has not been completed. McPhail asserted that studies completed thus far expect environmental hazards to be minimal and that identified environmental risks could be mitigated by “readily available and proven methods and technologies.” Overall, McPhail essentially downplayed the potential severity of environmental damage. Following the World Bank presentation, the audience reviewed poster boards outlining the available options in further qualitative and quantitative detail.

The Public Speaks: A Range of Perspectives

Audience at the briefing

Audience at the briefing

After the break, government representatives, environmental activists, and various citizens took the stand to present their comments and concerns. Israel Water Authority official Doron Markel, head of management and monitoring for the Kinneret, was given a generous time allotment that angered many in the audience. He discussed his adamant opposition to the combination alternative (favored by FoEME). Markel believes only the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea Conveyance options are practicable. Saad Abu Hammour, secretary-general of the Jordan Valley Authority and chairman of Jordan’s Red-Dead steering committee, spoke of the critical need in Jordan for this project to move forward due to the extreme scarcity of water and additional pressures on Jordan given the recent influx of approximately one million refugees from Syria.While a stated goal of the project is to promote a symbol of peacemaking in the region, Hammour’s comments illustrated the nuanced concerns and needs of each individual government involved.

Following Hammour’s statement, water scientist Sarit Caspi Oren from Adam Teva v’Din – Israel Union for Environmental Defense asserted the serious environmental danger that would come from mixing water with the Dead Sea. Quite simply, mixing would alter the water chemistry of the Dead Sea altering the very essence of what makes it the Dead Sea. Sarit explained that eventually this action would kill the Dead Sea and another body of water would stand in its place. FoEME is completely on board with Sarit’s points on the environmental hazard of mixing water with the Dead Sea and the ultimate environmental degradation that would result.

Well Known geologist who lives in Ein Gedi, Eli Raz, stated that the absence of the Jordan River throughout the conversation of implies a distorted worldview. The Dead Sea is a single component of a complex system of rivers and groundwater, most importantly the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. His messages was that the “whole system is dying. If the Dead Sea is to be truly saved, the whole system must be saved along with it”. His statements are welcomed by FoEME as a healthy view that goes to the core of the situation. 

Following a varied group of speakers, FoEME Israeli Director Gidon Bromberg gave a presentation in which he spoke out against the World Bank’s “Identified Option.” Gidon summarized the range of risks associated with the “Identified Option” reiterating that serious reconsideration is needed before launching a pilot program. Gidon discussed FoEME’s support for the combination of alternatives that gives greater flexibility and ability to synchronize with evolving technologies. Furthermore, the combination approach would be easier to fund, as it would not require major upfront investment. Bromberg explained that the combination approach advances the three objectives of the Project without the risks correlated with sea-to-sea conveyance and the detrimental effects on water chemistry from mixing water in the Dead Sea. So too, if we were to move forward with the combination of alternatives only proven technologies would be utilized and a pilot program would not be needed. Gidon explained that all parties should give serious thought to the alternative options available. FoEME stands firmly behind the combination of alternatives option, as it builds on past experiences in the region, achieves defined objectives, has known positive environmental and social benefits, and includes the double benefit of rehabilitating the Jordan River and stabilizing the Dead Sea. For further information on FoEME’s stance at the briefing please see our concise “one-pager” position. For documented press coverage of FoEME’s efforts, please refer to this website page.

Encouragingly, the majority of the non-sponsored public speakers spoke out against the World Bank’s proposed plan. Whether the issue was unfeasibility, lack of concrete plans, or fear of environmental risks, most attendees agreed that the proposed plan will most likely be a waste of money and will not solve the pressing problems at hand. The minority of the public supporting the proposed pilot program were mainly government and/or official representatives and pensioners from Dead Sea Works.Demographically, the hearing was comprised of middle-aged and elderly, mixed with a group of students from Ein Gedi, brought to the hearing by FoEME. 

Looking forward, we must turn to discussions and coalition building. Ideally, new Israeli Members of Parliament would form a special committee to work toward a solution. The public’s role is to help raise awareness of the issue, especially among younger generations, and put pressure on government representatives to prioritize and tackle the issue. Last but not least, take the opportunity to voice your opinion on the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Study Program by writing to Alexander McPhail at amcphail@worldbank.org. Arabic, English or Hebrew accepted.

This entry was written by Maja Sherman and Eliav Shtull-Trauring FoEME interns at the Tel Aviv office. 

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