AMMAN, Jordan, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Jordanian government officials announced plans to move ahead with the first phase of a large scale water project linking the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.
At a press conference in Amman Monday, Jordanian government officials described the project as one of "strategic national interest" to address the country's diminishing water supply and replenish the shrinking Dead Sea.
The plan calls for Jordan to draw water from the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern tip of the Red Sea and transfer it north to the Araba Valley where a desalination plant will be built. Another pipeline will extend from the plant to the Dead Sea, Jordan's Petra News said.
Minister of Water and Irrigation Hazem Nasser said the water pumped from the desalination plant will halt the decrease in the Dead Sea level.
"Once the Red-Dead Canal is fully completed, the Dead Sea will be receiving the same amount of water that vaporizes every year," The Jordan Times quoted him as saying.
Nasser said the new project is estimated to cost some $980 million, adding the government plans to secure some $400 million in grants. It will also provide hundreds of jobs, he added.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour described the plan as the largest project undertaken by the government since King Abdullah's accession in 1999.
The project will address the country's water shortage which increases by 7 percent annually, he said. Ensour added once the project is up and running, Jordan will sell water to Israel and purchase an annual quota of drinking water from the Jewish state, The Times of Jordan said.
"This process will save us the effort and cost of conveying water from the south to the northern governorates: Irbid, Jerash, Ajloun and Mafraq," he said.
The project was to have initially included Israel and the Palestinians but stalled in recent years because of questions concerning its feasibility and concerns raised by environmentalists, The Times of Israel said.