Until relatively recently, there was a bold plan to replenish the shrinking Dead Sea by connecting it to the Red Sea through a pipeline stretching for 177 kilometers (110 miles) through the Middle East.
The engineering megaproject was shelved in 2021 amid mounting tensions between Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Now, with relations in the Middle East looking increasingly dismal, it’s unlikely that the pipeline will ever see the light of day – potentially signing a death sentence for the Dead Sea.
The pipeline project, known as the Red Sea–Dead Sea Conveyance or the Two Seas Canal, has been under discussion for decades. The idea was first floated in the 19th century when the British Empire was looking for an alternative to the French-built Suez Canal that opened up a key trade route between Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The first serious discussion came around in 2005, when Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement to carry out a feasibility study. By 2013, the neighbors had agreed to work together on the project.
The idea was to construct a pipeline that runs northwards from the coastal city of Aqaba on the Red Sea through Jordan to the Lisan area in the Dead Sea. Along the pipeline, the water would be passed through numerous desalination plants and a hydroelectric power plant, potentially providing much-needed drinking water and electricity to Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.
It would also help to stabilize the ever-dwindling Dead Sea, the landlocked salt lake that’s surrounded by Jordan, Israel, and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank. Known for its incredibly salty water, the Dead Sea is shrinking at a rapid rate. Over the past 50 years, water levels of the Dead Sea have dropped by 45 meters (147 feet) and it continues to drop by about 1 meter (3 feet) each year.
Many factors are responsible for the declining fortunes of the Dead Sea, but overexploitation of water resources and climate change are often cited as the prime suspects.
Despite the deepening environmental crisis in the Dead Sea, the Red Sea–Dead Sea Conveyance has remained a pipe dream.
Geopolitical tensions have always riddled the project. It first became a possibility following the Israel–Jordan peace treaty in 1994, which ended the state of war that existed between the two countries since the First Arab–Israeli War in 1948. However, relations didn’t stay rosy for long.
In 2019, Jordanian King Abdullah said the relationship between Israel and Jordan was “at an all-time low”. In June 2021, Jordan reportedly pulled out of the plan, saying there was “no real Israeli desire” for the plan to go ahead.
More recently, the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict reignited deep distrust in Jordan, which is home to many people of Palestinian descent.
Against this backdrop, it seems unlikely the world will ever see the Red-Dead Canal. What that means for the Dead Sea is uncertain. While most scientists are confident it won’t totally dry up and cease to exist, its diminishing water stocks are likely to amplify problems in this troubled part of the planet.