An ibex contemplates the shrinking Dead Sea.
Not since Moses parted the Red Sea has such an ambitious water engineering project been seen in Israel's parched Negev desert. The "Peace Canal" is a $5 billion project to rehabilitate the Dead Sea (home of the original Sodom and Gomorrah) by pumping in seawater from the Red Sea ("Let my people go"). The centerpiece of the project is a 160 km water pipeline, around which would sprout railroads, hydroelectric power plants, mines, industrial parks, tourism around artificial lakes and the largest seawater pumping plant in the world.Why does the Dead Sea need to be rehabilitated? Mainly because its water source, the Jordan River (otherwise known as a great place to get baptized), is overexploited, and carries little more than treated wastewater by the time it reaches the Dead Sea. Extractive industries and tourist hotels on the Sea's shore are also to blame for the 1 meter yearly drop in the sea level and the resulting sinkholes which spontaneously appear along its shores.
So will the lowest place on earth be connected to a new water source, saving the day and bringing in its wake a "New Middle East" of peace and prosperity - or will politics as usual foil the ambitious scheme? Lately, circumstances seem to point to the latter scenario as everyone involved in any way with the project seems to be pulling in a different direction. Within the Israeli government, politicians are struggling for control of the project and its funding. Meanwhile, the Jordanians are exploring cheaper alternatives, and some on the Israeli side are looking at drawing water from the Mediterranean instead. Citizens and green groups are pushing for an assessment of the environmental impact of the project, while the World Bank is only interested in the economic sustainability of the project (already questioned by eight previous studies).
Perhaps the project's most outspoken opponent is Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), an activist group that has addressed some of the issues that the canal's proponents have decided to ignore. Here are some FAQ's about the project and a few of the group's unanswered questions (would the Dead Sea turn red and stinky when mixed with ocean water?).