Dead Sea’s revival with Red Sea canal edges closer to reality

This file image shows evaporation ponds at the southern part of the Dead Sea, where both sodium chloride and potassium salts are produced, near the Neve Zohar resort, as Jordan’s mountains are seen in the back. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Dead Sea’s revival with Red Sea canal edges closer to reality

GHOR AL-HADITHA, Jordan: Israel and Jordan have long pursued a common goal to stop the Dead Sea from shrinking while slaking their shared thirst for drinking water with a pipeline from the Red Sea some 200 kilometers away.
Geopolitical tensions have stalled efforts to break ground on the ambitious project for years, but the end of the latest diplomatic spat has backers hoping a final accord may now be in sight.
The degradation of the Dead Sea, on the border of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian West Bank, began in the 1960s when water began to be heavily diverted from the Jordan River.
“Before 1967, the water was just a 10-minute walk from my house,” said Musa Salim Al-Athem, a farmer who grows tomatoes on the banks on the Jordan side.
“Now it takes an hour,” he said, standing amid the resulting lunar landscape of spectacular salt sculptures, gaping sinkholes and craters.
“Only the sea can fill up the sea.”
“Since 1950, the amount flowing in the Jordan has dropped from 1.2 billion cubic meters per year (42 billion cubic feet) to less than 200 million,” said Frederic Maurel, an engineering expert at the French development agency AFD.
Heavy production of potash, used for making fertilizer, has also accelerated evaporation that has seen the sea’s surface area shrink by a third since 1960.
Experts say water levels are falling one meter (three feet) a year, and warn it could dry out completely within 30 years.
Already 100 years ago, Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism, had envisaged filling the Dead Sea via a canal dug to the Mediterranean.
The sea’s natural beauty and mineral-rich black mud have also provided a source of tourism revenue.
“The Dead Sea has historical, biblical, natural, touristic, medical and industrial values that make it an invaluable cultural, environmental and economic treasure,” said Avner Adin, a specialist in water science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
After years of studies, the $1.1 billion Red Sea “Peace Conduit” deal was signed by Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities in 2013.
The project, located entirely on Jordanian territory, includes a desalination plant near Aqaba.
After producing drinking water, the remaining highly saline liquid will be sent by pipeline to fill the Dead Sea, powering two hydroelectric plants along the way.
A subsequent 2015 deal would see Israel get 35 billion cubic meters of potable water from the desalination plant for its parched southern regions.
The mostly desert Jordan, for its part, would get up to 50 billion cubic meters of freshwater from the Sea of Galilee.
Israel also agreed to sell 32 billion cubic meters to the Palestinian authorities.
Jordan announced in November 2016 that it had chosen five international consortiums to build the first phase of the canal.
But talks on how to finance the deal, which calls for $400 million of public funding, and geopolitical flare-ups have kept the project from moving forward.
Some $120 million has already been pledged by donors including the US and Japan, while France’s AFD agency has secured the backing of the EU and some member states for $140 million in preferential loans to Jordan.
Talks were frozen last year after an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman, prompting a diplomatic standoff that ended only in January.
“We have never been so close to starting the project,” Maurel said. “It only needs a final push by the Jordanian and Israeli authorities.”
A diplomatic source in Amman said the project remained essential for the region given the environmental and economic stakes, “but it’s still at the mercy of diplomatic hazards.”
For Adin at the Hebrew University, “It seems to be that the situation is improving. The main obstacle in my mind could be financial.”
Officials in Jordan say they are determined to press ahead with or without Tel Aviv to cope with the needs of a rising population which has been swelled by about one million refugees fleeing the war in neighboring Syria.
“We are proceeding with the project because desalination eventually is the future of Jordan when it comes to water,” said Iyad Dahiyat, secretary general of the country’s water authority.
“Water is part of the stability of the kingdom itself,” he added. “It’s a national security issue.”


Lebanese election campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

Updated 25 April 2018
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Lebanese election campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

  • Lebanon's independent Sabaa party talks about exploitation of positions and money.
  • Several young men from the Sabaa party demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior.

BEIRUT: Sectarian and partisan polarization resulting from fierce competition for parliamentary seats in Lebanon has led to the first armed clash between two rival Druze parties.
Machine guns were used in the clash between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, which took place on Sunday evening in the city of Choueifat, about 5 km south of Beirut.
The two parties’ leaders acted quickly to calm their supporters.
“When politicians plant seeds of hatred and grudges among people, they commit a crime against citizens who have been breaking bread together for centuries,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, the two parties stressed “the need to avoid any steps that could provoke anger among supporters or disturb citizens who look forward to freely exercising their right to vote in an atmosphere of democratic competition.”
The two parties, alongside other parties with supporters in Choueifat, such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Amal Movement, have agreed on “disowning anyone who breaches security, requesting that the security forces intensify their presence in Choueifat, identifying fixed locations until the elections are over, and restraining from carrying out provocative processions.”
Campaigning lasts 24 hours before polling and has seen various kinds of violations of the electoral law.
Several young men from the Sabaa party — a group of independent activists — demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior, carrying banners questioning the ministry’s role in election-related issues.
“Serious violations are taking place because the country is out of control; many are exploiting their positions and pouring (in) their money, and conflicts are happening at grassroots level — people are tearing down photos of candidates and individuals are fighting with one another,” said Gilbert Hobeish on behalf of the demonstrators.
He added: “This is unacceptable, and the minister of interior must take responsibility.”
Hobeish criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission, saying “it only oversees the civil society or change candidates.”
“We reject this in toto,” he said.
Ali Al-Amin, a candidate on the Shbaana Haki electoral list (who was assaulted last Sunday by Hezbollah supporters in the town of Shaqra because he hung his photo outside his house), held a press conference in the town of Nabatiyah Al-Fawqa and renewed his protest against “the tyranny that silences voices, oppresses liberties and acts on its own will and temperaments, making us feel as if we were in the law of the jungle era.”
He said that “resistance isn’t anyone’s property nor is it one party’s ownership.”
He also called on “the free people of the south to decide which life they wanted and to which homeland and identity they belonged.”
Campaign fever is rising in Lebanon 48 hours before the elections are held for the first time for Lebanese communities in several Arab countries. These elections are to be held 11 days before parliamentary elections take place inside Lebanon.