The Red-Dead Canal and its Cultural Impact on Wadi Araba

The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at an elevation of more than 400 meters below sea level, is an environmental and cultural niche of unique importance.  Rare species of plants and animals claim the Dead Sea basin as their habitat, some of which are in danger of extinction, and rare bacteria inhabit its waters.  The composition of the Dead Sea, in addition to the climate of the region, provides beneficial treatments for skin diseases, which has made the region a focus of tourism.   The cultural resources on both sides of the Dead Sea also have appeal for tourists.  Rich archaeological remains have been recorded at such well known sites as En-Gedi, Numeira, Bab edh-Dhra, and Safi (Zoara).

The Problem
The Dead Sea is dying, so to speak.  Its waters are dropping at an alarming rate.  In the past 20 years, it is estimated that there has been a drop of at least 12 meters in the water level, which means the surface area of the Dead Sea has shrunk by at least 30 percent (fig. 1).  The reasons for this are well known.  First and foremost, regional demands for potable water have meant that most of the sources that replenish the waters of the Dead Sea have been diverted for other uses, whether for human consumption or for agricultural use or to support local industries (potash and tourism, for example).

The Solution
It is common opinion that the only solution to the diminishing waters of the Dead Sea will be to pump water into it via a canal (pipeline) system.  The idea of connecting the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean goes back to the 19th century, when it was suggested that the elevation difference between the two seas might make the production of hydroelectric energy feasible.   This idea was consistently revisited well into the 20th century but was never implemented, perhaps due the extraordinary costs involved in such a project. 

In 1977, when the depleting water level of the Dead Sea was apparent, the canal idea was explored again.  Israeli planners suggested three possible routes to the Dead Sea from the Mediterranean and one route from the Gulf of Aqaba (fig. 2).  The objectives were, again, on the production of hydroelectric energy and, consequently, the restoration of the water level of the Dead Sea.  Concurrently, Jordanian planners suggested an alternate route through Jordan from Aqaba to the Dead Sea, and their objectives were the same—generate electricity and restore the water level of the Dead Sea.

A new study began in the early 1980’s by Harza Engineering of Chicago that explored the Red-Dead canal option from the point of view of water production in addition to energy production.  This study was completed in 1996, and the author contributed to it when approached to assess the cultural impact of such a canal on Wadi Araba.  Harza determined that water pumped from the Red Sea would generate hydroelectric energy, which, when supplemented by solar energy, could power a desalinization plant that would bring potable water to the area to be used for agricultural and industrial purposes.  This would prove of immediate benefit to the human environment of the Dead Sea, but, as I was informed in 1995, the negative impact to the natural environment could be significant.  In fact, the impact of such a canal on the natural environment has not been sufficiently examined.

canalalign.jpg (124482 bytes)The Red-Dead Canal and Wadi Araba
In 1995, at the request of Harza, I provided a document addressing the relationship between the five proposed alignments of the Red-Dead canal through Jordan and the cultural resources of Wadi Araba.  I stressed then that before any such project commenced, an archaeological assessment would be warranted and necessary.  I stressed the fact that much of the Araba remained unexplored archaeologically, and that what few investigations had been conducted suggested that much would be found from all prehistoric and historic periods of human activity in the valley if systematic survey commenced.   Thus, any proposed alignment of the canal could have potentially devastating effects on significant sites in the cultural landscape.    

The Wadi Araba Archaeological Research Project is committed to expanding our knowledge of the cultural landscape of Wadi Araba, through the design and implementation of archaeological research projects that are problem-oriented and goal-driven.  Several projects have already been implemented and are continuing (see on this website).  At present, WAARP is committed to expanding our knowledge of the Wadi Araba in relation to such key settlements as Petra, Aqaba, Safi, and Gaza.  This research will facilitate any cultural assessments and environmental impact studies conducted in Wadi Araba, in particular any study related to the cultural impact of the Red-Dead Canal Project.

Strangely, another "Wadi Arabah Project" has emerged in recent years with hauntingly familiar project objectives.  The Wadi Araba Archaeological Research Project (WAARP), however, is actually on the ground conducting active archaeological research in the Araba with the expressed goal of protecting and preserving its rich cultural heritage.


For Updates in the Red-Dead Canal Project, see:

ball.gif (1653 bytes) The Dead Sea Project’s website

ball.gif (1653 bytes) See also the Mandala Projects TED Case Study No. 429, The Dead Sea Canal, which analyzes Harza’s feasibility study

ball.gif (1653 bytes) Friends of the Earth Middle East also is investigating the ecological impact of the canal on teh Dead Sea and Wadi Araba



ball.gif (1653 bytes) September 20, 2006 - Minister of Water Meets French Ambassador to discuss the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project

ball.gif (1653 bytes) September 6, 2006 - 'Red to Dead' seawater plan underway

ball.gif (1653 bytes) February 14, 2006 - Recent Focus on the Dead Sea issue - Mideast Seeks Water Solutions - UPI

ball.gif (1653 bytes) February 11, 2006 - AAU Completed Dead Sea Geophysical Studies - Jordan News Agency (Petra), Jordan

ball.gif (1653 bytes) January 27, 2006 - Jordan, Israel Discuss Dead Sea Water Project - China View

ball.gif (1653 bytes) July 5, 2005 - Study Launched to Save the Dead Sea - World Bank Press Release No: 2005/559/MNA


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copyright 1996 Wadi Araba Archaeological Research Project

Most recent update: 7/10/07
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