Israel has six seawater desalination plants while Jordan has none!

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.(Photo: Jordan News)
At a time when Jordan is still in the early pre-construction stages of its first desalination plant on the Red Sea, Israel is three months into expanding its existing water facility on the shores of the same sea, the Eilat Sea Water Desalination Plant, also known as “Sabha”.اضافة اعلان

(Photo: Envato Elements)

Yes, Israel is “expanding” — not “constructing” from absolute scratch — one of its six seawater desalination plants. What is more, the Eilat plant has been there in its reverse-osmosis version since 1997 (28 years ago), launched a mere three years after the US-mediated 1994 Peace Treaty between Jordan and Israel. In the 1970s, around 50 years ago, the plant was a pilot desalination project that used a now-obsolete technology to remove salt from water.

In light of Eilat plant’s small production capacity of 18 million cubic meters a year (enough to cover the resort’s hotel consumption), Israel made the strategic decision to build its first large-scale seawater desalination plant – coined as its “salvation” project – almost 17 years ago, in 2005. Located on the Mediterranean coast, the Ashkelon desalination plant produces 120 million cubic meters annually. At the time, it was deemed the “world’s largest and most advanced desalination plant”.

Technically, Israel currently has five large-scale seawater desalination facilities (also referred to as “desal” plants) located strategically along the Mediterranean coastline and capable of producing around 600 million cubic meters per year. To that is added the now-expanding Eilat facility that desalinates a mixture of seawater and brine discharged from brackish water treatment.

By 2025, Israel is expected to add two more salt-water desalination plants to its repertoire, bringing the total to eight seawater desal plants, with a cool 1.1 billion cubic meters of desalinated water to cover most of it household, industry and agricultural needs.

That is two years before Jordan’s “National Water Carrier Project” could provide the entire Kingdom with 300 million cubic meters of water from the Red Sea, by 2027.

In sharp contrast with Israel’s significant strides in water desalination, Jordan’s 450-km carrier is still in its infancy. Just last week, the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation sent a request for proposals (RFP) to pre-qualified consortiums in hopes of finally building the project perceived as the “largest-ever” in the country in the water sector.

This great disparity between Israel’s enormous progress in achieving “water security” and Jordan’s teetering on the brink of imminent water shortages and severe drought should give a crucial perspective to those (in government and otherwise) who have been resorting to fearmongering as of late, framing the country’s water crisis as a nightmare that has taken us all by surprise.

It should also be a reminder that US foreign policy, which is bent on viewing Jordan through a “regional integration” lens, has given Israel free rein to build five large-scale seawater desalination plants on the Mediterranean coastline, with the capacity to cover 80 percent of Israel’s municipal water needs – in a manner that shows egregious bias in favor of Israel.

While Israel has been given plenty of room to achieve its own water security projects, without the angle of “regional schemes” hampering its efforts, Jordan has been illogically and unjustly left to negotiate for almost 30 years in a hopeless bid to push the Red-Dead Canal over the finish line.

Only very recently has the Kingdom been able to garner support from the EU (now looking to expand its security and development-based role in the region) and the US (currently under Democratic Party rule) to go ahead with the national carrier, aka the Aqaba-Amman “National Water Conveyance Project”.

The Israeli right’s deep-seated paranoia may have been the reason there is a 17-year gap between Israel’s first large-scale desalination project and Jordan’s first-ever sovereign water desalination plant.

A gap of almost two decades begs the question: In what world is this fair or commonsensical?

We all know that Israel has a special place in US politics, but Jordan has also proved itself — time and again — as a key ally in stabilizing the region, fighting radicalism and terrorism, and leading by example as a role model for moderate Islam.

While the Jordanian leadership has shown unmatched patience, wisdom, and moderation, Israel has been throwing tantrums to keep its upper hand, especially when it comes to water and natural resources, thinking this would give it a strategic advantage over its neighboring Jordan. Other than some pointless ego trip and the illusion of superiority, what Israel has managed to achieve in practical terms is a deep dent in trust, not only for itself, but also for the US, which has adopted Israel’s existential insecurities as absolute truths.

With some objectivity (if possible), the US can help Israel move past its anxieties from 70 years ago and join the international community in its adoption of global values like empathy, justice, human rights, and the respect for human dignity (including that of Palestinians and Jordanians).

While the US is sticking to the foreign policy objectives of past decades, there is plenty of evidence that the region, and the world, have changed on a very deep level, and this includes Israel.

Some would think it is naïve to expect fairness in politics, but recent years have brought much change to global self-awareness, necessitating more than just skin-deep transformation. 

The pandemic, climate change, the erosion of democracy due to the rise of populism, and the spread of Chinese-leaning ideals (including unbridled tech surveillance) are all reasons to reexamine political attitudes at policy level. Simply put, the world is spinning on different moral axis than those prevalent seven decades ago.

In the US, the Democrats now have voices that we have never heard before. Because of progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the eruption of social-justice movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo, the US is witnessing serious changes in its collective consciousness and mentality. Although the Republicans have been pulling the country in the opposite direction ever since Trump’s populist era, those recent awakenings will unavoidably influence US foreign policy.

Unlike the US, the EU has been quick to overhaul its foreign policy in a transformative manner. Through the “Strategic Compass” and its recent introduction of the “Global Gateway”, the European bloc has adopted a new global outlook that positions it as a global force with an eye toward instituting the values of “fairness” and “good governance” as its leading principles, even with security being as its core objective.

This said, the concept of “regional water justice” is the only way forward to achieve sustainable coexistence and peace in the area for generations to come.

Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

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