by Tom Weimer, ’18
In an attempt to boost domestic and international tourism as well as to provide cultural experiences outside of the annual pilgrimage of Hajj, which attracts roughly 3.7 million Muslims to Mecca over the course of one week, Saudi Arabia announced plans in early August to build a tourist haven alongside the northwestern coast of the Red Sea.
The country is widely recognized for its stern enforcement of traditional Islamic law, strict dress code, and severe penalties for alcohol possession. According to the provisions of the project, these laws would be set aside in the 34,000 square km “semi-autonomous” tourism area to allow for greater ease of travel.
The $10 billion effort, nicknamed the Red Sea Project, includes luxury hotels, scuba diving sites, a nature reserve, and a Six Flags. In addition, the project hopes to highlight the country’s natural beauty, including coral reefs, dormant volcanos, rare wildlife and the historical site of Mada’in Saleh.
The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, headed by recently crowned Prince Mohammed bin Salman, announced that it would be paying for a majority of the project. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the plan is projected to generate $81 billion dollars in revenue by 2026.
There’s more to the project than beaches and roller coasters, however: the ultimate goal is to establish lasting peace, diplomacy, and economic stability.
On the same shores, the project also plans to accomplish the feat of joining two oceans together. This historical agreement between Israel, Jordan and Palestine was approved by the World Bank last December.
The proposed pipeline would be 180 km in length and would transport two billion cubic meters of water every year from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea.
Water pumped through the pipeline would serve a dual purpose; first, it will replenish water levels in the Red Sea. The water level has decreased 29 meters since 1960, and the surface area has shrunk 313 square kilometers. Second, it will go through a desalination plant and provide fresh water to Jordan, where struggling to access the resource is an everyday struggle. This predicament is also being aggravated by the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the country’s violent and ongoing civil war.
This is the first time in history that two seas are being mixed together, “This is a mega-project which will change the whole plain of the area. It’s the first time that we are toying with the idea of connecting two seas,” said Mira Edelstein, a spokeswoman for Friends of Earth Middle East, an environmental activist company.
However, several potential environmental problems arise from this new approach. One possibility is that the saltwater pipe could burst and contaminate groundwater. More likely is the disruption of the ocean’s delicate ecosystem- a study of the hypothetic impact of the project resulted in the growth of red algae blooms, a non-native species to the Dead Sea, thriving in the water mixture.
The project is scheduled to begin in late 2019, with the first phase being completed by 2022.