GNF - Dead Sea Canal

Questions and Answers to the Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal and the Feasibility Study of the World Bank


Why a Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal?

The Dead Sea is drying out. Whereas its water level was approximately 389 m below mean sea level in 1970, it has fallen to - 427 m in the meantime. Now, water from the Red Sea shall help to “refill” the Dead Sea. The objective is to stabilize the water level of the Dead Sea at an altitude of - 416 m by 2054. The difference in elevation between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea shall be used to operate a hydroelectric power plant. The generated energy shall then be used for a desalination plant. Altogether around 850 million m³ of seawater shall be desalted annually, in order to provide Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories with drinking water. The remaining brine shall also be fed into the Dead Sea.


The idea to construct a canal between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea is old. Already at the end of the 19th century such a canal was discussed as a means of transport and for energy production. Since the presentation of the so called Peace Conduit project from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea by the governments of Israel and Jordan at the World Summit in Johannesburg 2002, the initiative gained in importance. Shortly afterwards, also the Palestinian Authority supported the project and in May 2005, the three riparian states approved the realisation of a feasibility study. The study was carried out by the World Bank and was funded by a multi-donor trust fund, which was established in December 2006.


How much does the construction of the Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal cost?

The full costs of the project are estimated to sum up to about 11.1 to 11.3 billion U.S. dollars. In addition, operation and maintenance costs add up to about 400 million U.S. dollars per year. This sum will increase to about 660 million by 2060.


Who will finance the construction?

Potential sources of initial finance include beneficiary government equity / public funding, multilateral loans, private equity, grants, donations, soft loans, export credit as well as contractor finance. The operation and maintenance costs shall be recovered through the tariffs for potable water and hydro-electricity.


What do supporters say about the Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal?

For the supporters – mainly policy makers and bureaucrats in the riparian countries at the Dead Sea - the canal is the only means to save the Dead Sea. The rising sea water level would boost international tourism and protect the mineral extraction industry from losses generated by the decline of the sea water level. In addition, the fresh water demand of the region could be covered thanks to the canal. Since this project is a joint initiative of the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian governments, the canal is also regarded as an important step towards cooperation and peace in the Middle East.


What do opponents say about the Red Sea – Dead Sea Canal?

Sceptical comments come from regional and international scientists and environmental organisations. There are, for instance, still a lot of questions to be answered:

  • What are the dangers of water intake for the delicate coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba?
  • How will the construction of the pipeline affect the natural landscape of the Arava Valley (the section of the Jordan Rift Valley running in a north-south orientation between the southern end of the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea)?
  • How much gypsum will be built in the Dead Sea due to mixing the sulphate-rich water of the Red Sea with the calcium-rich water of the Dead Sea?
  • How can the possible development of algae due to the different salt content of the waters be prevented?

Even from an economic point of view the project remains questionable. Depending on the amount of gypsum crystals that might be built, the Dead Sea could turn white, which would negatively affect both the tourism sector as well as the mineral extraction industry. Moreover, the energy produced in the hydropower plant is neither sufficient for the operation of the desalination plant nor for the pumps that transport the drinking water to the cities.


Problems might also occur from a technical point of view. Pipelines are prone to leakages, which can continue undetected for many years and which might harm valuable groundwater resources. In addition, the region between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea is seismically active: a strong earthquake might damage the pipeline.


From the perspective of Palestinian non-governmental organisations, the plan to construct such a pipeline undermines Palestinian water rights, as the massive water abstraction from the Lower Jordan River and the Palestinian dispossession from the river would be legitimised. Palestinians would end up paying a high price for desalinated drinking water, even though they are entitled to the free use of the water of the Jordan River.

Are there any alternatives to the Red – Dead Canal?

Instead of investing billions of U.S. dollars in a project whose economic, environmental and social consequences cannot be predicted, the causes of the problem should be addressed: the massive diversion of water from the main tributary of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, as well as the overexploitation of the water resources of the saline lake by the mineral industry.


Already 400–600 million cubic meters of water would be sufficient to bring the water flow of the Lower Jordan River back to an acceptable level. According to a study conducted by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), dedicated water saving and water demand management projects may save / generate up to a billion cubic meters of water in the riparian countries.


In addition to the rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River, the mineral extraction industry needs to change its practices. Every year, around 650 million cubic meters of water are extracted from the Dead Sea and led into large evaporation basins. Instead, the valuable minerals could also be filtered from the salt water by using special membranes. This, however, is an expensive technology and as the mineral extraction industry does not yet pay for the water that it extracts from the Dead Sea, the governments need to create incentives first.


When will the Canal be built?

It is not yet clear whether the Red-Dead Canal will be built or not. This is due to the very high costs associated with the construction. According to the World Bank, the feasibility of the project depends on the ability to raise 4 billion U.S. dollars in donations and grant aid. Taking the current world economic crisis into account, this will rather be difficult. In addition, Israel is deeply in debt and Jordan is close to bankruptcy. Thus, the project does not seem to be financially feasible at the moment. (December 2013)

Further Information


Die Zeit (24.02.2013), Der durstige Salzsee


Friends of the Earth Middle East (2013), Red-Dead Conduit. Introduction


Friends of the Earth Middle East (2013), News Alert. Good News for the Lower Jordan River


Friends of the Earth Middle East (2010), Towards a Living Jordan River: An Environmental Flows Report on the Rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River


Friends of the Earth Middle East (2010), Towards a Living Jordan River: An Economic Analysis of Policy Options for Water Conservation in Jordan, Israel and Palestine


The World Bank (2012), Draft Final Feasibility Study Report. Summary


The World Bank (2013), Study Program Financing


Salzburger Nachrichten (16.08.2013), Der Jordan soll wieder ein Fluss werden


Scoop Independent News (04.11.2013), Palestinian NGOs on World Bank-sponsored Red-Dead Sea Canal