The Bank deliberated the project for six years. February will see the onset of the appeals stage, which will be headed by various environmental groups that are warning of a potentially catastrophic disaster to both bodies of water.
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Should the project, which has the estimated costs of $12 billion, mature, the 180-kilometer pipeline's construction is likely to take at least five years.
Still, the geopolitical climate in the Middle East following the Arab Spring is likely to create significant setbacks in the project, which involves Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
The World Bank's decision was made following a longtime study of financial, environmental and social assessment studies, as well as a study of strategic alternatives.
The pipeline's projected route
The project aims to save the Dead Sea from environmental degradation, as its water level has been steadily declining at a rate of more than a meter a year. The result so far has been the sea's "shrinking" from 960 sq. km. to 620 sq. km. in the past 50 years.
The severe losses in the Dead Sea’s volume are in large part due to the progressive decline of the Jordan River flow due to upstream diversion by Israel, Jordan and Syria.
The Dead Sea in unique to Israel and is the only body of water of its kind in the world.
Environmental hazardsThe World Bank's feasibility study explored three scenarios: A "no project" scenario, in which the Dead Sea continues to deteriorate; a base case scenario meant to stabilize the Dead Sea; and a "base case plus" scenario that also includes desalination and hydroelectricity generation.
After examining all the alternatives, the feasibility study recommended opting for the "base case plus scenario" saying it would entail "The lowest installed cost and far less onerous engineering, though it would involve higher net energy demands and generate a larger carbon footprint."
The Work Bank further determined that the direct economic benefits exceed the costs by some $1 billion.
According to environmental impact study commissioned for the project, the greatest risk is posed by the leakage of seawater into valuable groundwater. The study said that the necessary engineering solutions must be incorporated to minimize the risk.
Examining the potential impacts on the Red Sea, the study concludes that "Damage to benthic habitats, in the ecological region at the lowest level of the sea, can be minimized; as can disruption to coral reefs, by planting the intake site 90 meters deep or more."
One of its kind. The Dead Sea (Photo: AFP)
In the Dead Sea region, the study predicted "A change in chemical composition as well as a rise in gypsum growth, potentially causing increased whitening in the surface waters."
But a second study – the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Study Environmental and Social Assessment study – detailed many other risks.
One of the biggest concerns expressed by ecologists, is "The risk that the influx of seawater and reject brine into the Dead Sea will cause changes to the appearance and water quality such that its value as a heritage site of international importance will be damaged."
The study found that there would also be a major impact on the Dead Sea’s appearance and integrity, as well as the 48 archeological sites along its route.
Other negative effects would include damage to the region’s ecology and hydrogeology, as well as the significant presence of nonrenewable energy resources generated in the region, according to the assessment.
The Development of the Negev and Galilee and Regional Cooperation Ministry welcomed the World Bank’s announcement.
“This cooperation will benefit all sides given the existing deficiencies in the area, and this will lead particularly to the salvation of the wonder of the world that is the Dead Sea," Minister Silvan Shalom said.
"The World Bank and donor countries believe in the ability to realize cooperation from this activity. From here on we will harness the influential bodies in order to ensure that the project is implemented in reality.”
Friends of the Earth Middle East, however, slammed the World Bank's decision as "irresponsible": "If this project were to go forward, the real beneficiaries would be Israeli business tycoons associated with the building of the largest desalination plant in the world, and foreign pipeline construction companies," Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of FOEME, said.
"The public would be the ones to foot the bill, twice over – once, in unaffordable water prices, and again, in the further demise of the environment."
Munqeth Mehyar, the Jordanian director of FOEME, agreed: "The study seems to forget that there is a global economic crisis, that Jordan is on the verge of bankruptcy, and that Israel is heavily in the red.
"The study also ignores the fact that a cubic meter of water from this project would cost up to $2.7 billion in Jordan; an impossible expense for Jordanians to pay, that will lead to riots in the streets.
Nader Khateeb, the Palestinian director of FOEME, said that the years of research that the World Bank had spent on the study were "wasted time."