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«Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water Security in the Levantine Middle East Mari Luomi (editor) Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water ...»

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Changes in the water abstraction of the upstream countries induced by a diplomatic confrontation could reduce Jordan’s water share and an armed conflict might physically limit the country’s access to water.

The four major aquifers which constitute about 80% of Jordan’s groundwater resources are also shared between neighbouring countries: the Amman-Wadi Sir and Basalt aquifers also deliver water to Syria, the Disi aquifer to Saudi Arabia and the Hamad aquifer to Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.140 137 Jordan Times, ‘Jordanian-Thai cooperation to make it rain’ (5 September 2010).

138 Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

139 ESCWA, Knowledge management and analysis, pp. 49-50.

140 Ibid., p. 49.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 65 Jordan has big plans for making the most of certain shared water resources. In June 2009, it launched the Disi Water Conveyance Project, which is expected to supply Amman with 107 Mm 3 of water annually from the Disi aquifer located in Southern Jordan.141 Another multilateral multi-billion project is the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Project, which consists of building a 160-kilometre canal and a series of pipelines from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea.

A key question is whether there is sufficient team spirit between the parties to realize these projects. The trilateral Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Project is facing obstacles as Jordan, frustrated by Israel’s and the Palestinian Authority’s slow engagement in the joint venture, started planning a unilateral national project.142 Israel in particular regards Jordan’s solo actions as a bad neighbourhood policy, although Jordan is still also committed to the trilateral project. 143 Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the legacy of conflict between Israel and Jordan and its fellow Arab countries is a major challenge, if not an obstacle, to the much-needed regional cooperation on water issues.

–  –  –

The boundaries and names shown and the designations used in this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs or the authors, and are for illustrative purposes only.

Map 5. Jordan: the Red-Dead Sea project and the Disi aquifer 141 Jordan Times, ‘Disi project construction in full force’ (10 August 2010).

142 The project is known as the Jordan Red Sea Project or the Jordan National Project.

143 Jerusalem Post, ‘Raising the dead - Is the ‘Red-Dead Sea Conveyance Project’ viable?’ (27 July 2010).

66 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 The Disi aquifer project The Disi aquifer project consists of over sixty wells and a 325-kilometre pipeline that will eventually carry water from the ancient aquifer located in Southern Jordan to Amman. Construction started in June 2009, after 20 years of planning and delays due to a lack of financial resources. Although the project’s implementation has faced difficulties and delays 144, Disi should supply Amman’s inhabitants with nearly 30% of their water by 2013. The estimated cost of the project is 600 million US dollars. 145 The Disi project will not solve Amman’s, let alone Jordan’s, water worries but it will alleviate the capital’s severe water deficit. Carrying water from the South is also projected to relieve the upland aquifers, Amman’s current main water sources, of long-continued over-use.

The Disi project is also estimated to indirectly improve the quality of wastewater, which will eventually lead to better quality treated wastewater for irrigation.146 However, the amelioration is not without its limits, as the fossil aquifer will only render water for about 50 years.147 After Disi’s water has been depleted, the project planners estimate that the channel can be used to convey desalinated water from the Gulf of Aqaba to the rest of Jordan. 148 The project’s proponents say that realizing the expensive endeavour, notwithstanding Jordan’s current substantial fiscal deficit and foreign debt, is a necessity in order to supply Amman with uninterrupted and safe drinking water by 2022. Critics would rather see the country emphasize other measures in its water policy.

According to some views, it makes no sense investing huge amounts 144 Jordan Times, ‘Major delay in Disi project – Najjar’ (29 September 2010).

145 The European Investment Bank and the French Development Agency have supported the government by extending Jordan soft loans of 100 million US dollars respectively. Jordan Times, ‘Disi in full force’.

146 Ministry of Environment, Disi Water Conveyance Project.

147 Dureid Mahsaneh, ‘Bring the people to Disi, not Disi to the people’, Jordan Business Magazine (10 January 2007).

148 Greenprophet.com, ‘Jordanian Water Pipeline Construction Starts’ (13 December 2009).

http://www.greenprophet.com/2009/12/jordan-water-pipe-disi/. Accessed on 31 August 2010.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 67 of money in a partial solution that is relatively short-term and both economically and ecologically expensive. 149 Concerns have also been raised about the safety of the Disi water.

A group of researchers reported having detected extremely high levels of naturally occurring and carcinogenic radium isotopes in groundwater abstracted from a part of the Disi aquifer. The Jordanian Ministry for Water and Irrigation contested the claims of radioactivity by presenting its own research results, according to which water from Disi is safe to drink, and public discussion on the contradictory results was duly suppressed.150 In the past two decades, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have quarrelled over the rights to Disi’s water. Jordan argued that its neighbour was using more than its fair share of the aquifer’s supply151 whereas Saudi Arabia expressed concerns about the Jordanian Disi project’s effects on its future water share.152 In 2002, Jordan declared the Disi venture an issue of national security and the environmental feasibility studies were kept secret. Access to data related to the aquifer’s renewability and capacity was also denied between 2002 and 2004.153 A settlement was reached in 2008, but it remains to be seen whether Saudi Arabia will remain content with it once the project is operational. 154 The Red-Dead Sea canal project The Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Project has provoked even more discussion than the Disi project. It aims at carrying between 1000 to 2000 Mm3 of water annually from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, thereby saving the shrinking salt lake and providing potable water and 149 Jordan Business Magazine, ‘Bring the people to Disi’.





150 Jordan Watch, ‘The Curious Case of Radioactivity in Disi Aquifer’ (28 February 2009), http://www.jordanwatch.net/archive/2009/2/816436.html. Accessed on 14 September 2010.

151 F. Greco, ‘The securitization of the Disi aquifer: a silent conflict between Jordan and Saudi Arabia’, SOAS Water Issues Group Occasional papers (2005), p. 6.

152 IRIN Middle East, ‘Jordan: Declining rainfall, population growth spur search for water’ (23 September 2009), http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportId=86250. Accessed on 15 September 2010.

153 Greco, F. ‘The securitization of the Disi aquifer’, p. 6.

154 IRIN Middle East, ‘Jordan: Declining rainfall’.

68 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 electricity to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank. As delays have dragged on, Jordan initiated the planning of a national project. The analysis below, however, will focus on the trilateral Red-Dead project due to its potential to foster cooperation between the parties involved. Compared to the Jordanian national scheme, the trilateral project also faces better financing prospects, thanks to the commitment of the World Bank.

The Dead Sea is shrinking by a metre a year and faces the threat of total demise in the next 50 years. The salt lake’s riparian countries for their part suffer from acute current or projected water scarcity.

In May 2008, after over a decade of discussions and planning, a comprehensive rescue plan was taken under study by the World Bank.

The project’s final feasibility report is due out in May 2011, whereas the environmental and social impact assessments should be completed by October 2011.155 The venture under scrutiny includes building an approximately 160-kilometre canal and a series of pipelines from the Gulf of Aqaba to the southern end of the Dead Sea, equipped with a desalination plant and a hydropower plant.

Estimates of the time and money required for realizing the scheme vary, but in any event it would be neither quick nor cheap: building the canal with all its facilities could take up to 20 years and cost 15 billion US dollars. 156 However, the desalination plant is expected to yield 310 Mm3 of potable water as early as the 2020s.157 The final maximum capacity of the desalination plant would be 850 Mm 3 per year. Around 2050, the level of the Dead Sea is projected to have been elevated from -433 metres, the level it is estimated to stand at by the time the project could start, to a sustainable level and stabilized at that level.158 The beneficial by-products of the project, which is often portrayed by the governments principally as an environmental rescue scheme, 155 Jordan Times, ‘Water officials to discuss future of Red-Dead project’ (17 August 2010).

156 Jerusalem Post, ‘Raising the dead’.

157 Coyne et Bellier with Tractebel Engineering & Kema, Options Screening and Evaluation Report. Executive Summary. Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Project Study Program Feasibility Study. Report No. 12 147 RP01 (29 January 2009), p. 19.

158 Coyne et Bellier et al., Options Screening and Evaluation Report, p. 4. A sustainable water level for the Dead Sea is estimated at between -410 metres and -420 metres.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 69 would be divided among Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

But if saving the Dead Sea were the primary goal, there would be other strategies at hand. According to environmentalists, the Dead Sea could be revived by restoring the Lower Jordan River’s original flow by a minimum of 30%. Currently, only 2% of the river’s original flow reaches the Dead Sea as the riparian countries exploit it as a major freshwater source.159 For Jordanian policy-makers, the project is at least as much about drinking water as anything else. The country’s water strategy is based on the assumption that the Red-Dead project’s desalination plant will be operational by the 2020s.160 Jordan would be the biggest beneficiary of the potential plant since Israel and the West Bank have few areas to which pumping water from the canal would be economically and ecologically feasible.161 In 2050 Jordan could expect to receive 462 Mm3 of drinkable water, which would solve the estimated water deficit in the Greater Amman area at that time.

However, the project entails various environmental and technical concerns. One big technical risk lies in the fact that the canal is planned within an active seismic zone: there is a high risk of a major seismic event taking place during the project’s life span.

Another concern is that saline water could leak from the pipelines and contaminate the region’s aquifers.162 According to the project’s consultants, these challenges can be tackled by careful lineation of the canal, technical safety measures and the correct construction materials.

In addition, ecological concerns have been raised by environmentalists and scientists involved in studying the effects of mixing water from the Red Sea with the highly saline water of the tiny Dead Sea. Studies conducted to date indicate that mixing the waters might negatively affect the unique mineral composition of the Dead Sea’s water. However, the current method of study is being criticized for being too small in scale for acquiring more conclusive results. Massive water pumping from the Gulf of Aqaba could also harm the Red Sea’s unique coral reefs. Another point of criticism 159 Jerusalem Post, ‘Raising the dead’.

160 Royal Commission for Water, Jordan’s Water Strategy 2008-2022, e.g. p. 7/2.

161 Coyne et Bellier et al., Options Screening and Evaluation Report, pp. 4-14.

162 Ibid.

70 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 has been the relatively tight schedule of the project’s environmental impact assessment due to which reliable results are said to be difficult to achieve.163 Conclusions Although Jordan’s water use is somewhat lavish and distribution between irrigation and other purposes is skewed, it would be unreasonable to expect the country to resolve its acute water problems without resorting to any supply-side measures. Water officials have taken water demand management seriously and are determined to introduce a water-saving mentality throughout Jordanian society.

Water-saving programmes, improvements in water management and the existing infrastructure, maximizing water reuse, capping agriculture’s water consumption, promoting public awareness, and drastically reducing the share of non-revenue water are of paramount importance and should be used as primary means to combat water scarcity and increase the sustainability of water use. A ‘less is more’ stance towards water is also the most suitable one in adapting to the future effects of climate change.

Regarding the big water supply projects, their sustainability is still a question mark. The results of the environmental and social impact assessments of the Red-Dead Sea project will determine whether rescuing the endangered ecosystem from drying up can be viably combined with producing freshwater and hydropower. Thorough feasibility studies and impact assessments are indeed at the core of a sustainable approach to water. Discussions regarding the Disi project and the conflicting results concerning the water’s high radioactivity versus safety imply that the project’s assessment process could and should have been conducted more carefully and openly. Going ahead with a multimillion-dollar venture that might eventually end up risking environmental sustainability and people’s health is not the best example of project planning. Therefore, lessons learned from the Disi project need to be applied in the Red Sea-Dead Sea project.

163 Jerusalem Post, ‘Raising the dead’.



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