Water-sharing accord won’t solve overpopulation issue
Mideast observers were happily surprised to hear about a water-sharing agreement signed at the World Bank headquarters earlier this month between the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian governments.
Amid the media fanfare, it is important to distill what this new accord delivers and what it doesn’t.
The centerpiece of the agreement is a new desalination plant to be established on the Red Sea in Aqaba, Jordan, that will provide water for the city and its vicinity, including the neighboring Israeli city of Eilat. In addition, an estimated 100 million liters of the high-salt brine produced by the desalination plant is to be pumped annually via a conduit in Jordan and discharged into the Dead Sea, which has been shrinking steadily for decades. Farther north, Israel agreed to sell some 80 billion liters of water each year from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordanians and Palestinians.
The projected price tag for the entire initiative – $400 million – is a fraction of a much more ambitious, multibillion program to refill the Dead Sea that recently was endorsed by the World Bank.
As the first new agreement in many years that coordinates natural resource use between Israel and its neighbors, its very existence constitutes good news – as does the introduction of additional desalinated water into an increasingly parched region.
Yet, the 100 million liters of brine that is to reach the Dead Sea is only a 10th of the 1 billion liters that used to reach it naturally, flowing via the River Jordan. (During the past 50 years, most of the waters were diverted by Syria, Israel and Jordan.) This agreement in no way saves the Dead Sea from dying. The unique saline lake, located at the lowest place on Earth, will continue its alarming retreat each year with or without the new pipeline.
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