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Published with the support of the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences

newsletter

TWAS

N E W S L E T T E R   O F   T H E   A C A D E M Y   O F   S C I E N C E S   F O R   T H E   D E V E L O P I N G   W O R L D

CONTENTS

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S U N L I G H T A N D



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E A R T H S C I E N C E S

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B U I L D I N G

C A PAC I T Y    



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P E O P L E , P L AC E S , E V E N TS



TWAS NEWSLETTER

Published quarterly with

the support of the Kuwait Foundation 

for the Advancement of Sciences

(KFAS) by TWAS, the academy of

sciences for the developing world  

ICTP Campus, Strada Costiera 11

34014 Trieste, Italy

tel: +39 040 2240327

fax: +39 040 224559

email: info@twas.org

website: www.twas.org

TWAS COUNCIL

President

Jacob Palis (Brazil)

Immediate Past President

C.N.R. Rao (India)

Vice-Presidents

Jorge E. Allende (Chile)

Bai Chunli (China)

Lydia P. Makhubu (Swaziland)

Atta-ur-Rahman (Pakistan)

Ismail Serageldin (Egypt)

Secretary General

D. Balasubramanian (India)

Treasurer

José L. Moràn Lòpez (Mexico)

Council Members

Ali Al-Shamlan (Kuwait)

Eugenia M. del Pino (Ecuador)

Reza Mansouri (Iran, Isl. Rep.)

Keto E. Mshigeni (Tanzania)

Abdul H. Zakri (Malaysia)

K.R. Sreenivasan (ex-officio, ICTP)

TWAS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Mohamed H.A. Hassan (Sudan)

EDITOR

Daniel Schaffer

ASSISTANT EDITOR

Peter McGrath

MANAGING EDITOR

Gisela Isten

SUPPORT STAFF

Tasia Asakawa

Liz Ng’ang’a

DESIGN & ART DIRECTION

Sandra Zorzetti, Rado Jagodic

www.studio-link.it

PRINTING

Stella Arti Grafiche, Trieste

Unless otherwise indicated, 

the text is written by the editors 

and may be reproduced freely 

with due credit to the source.

MARKING A NEW CHAPTER IN THE HISTORY OF TWAS, THE ACADEMY’S STEERING COMMITTEE

MET FOR THE FIRST TIME ON 17 JANUARY 2007. THE MEETING TOOK PLACE IN TRIESTE,

ITALY, AND WAS ATTENDED BY REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT, WHICH IS

TWAS’S CHIEF FINANCIAL SPONSOR, AND THE UNITED NATIONS EDUCATIONAL SCIENTIFIC

AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATION (UNESCO), WHICH OVERSEES THE ACADEMY’S

ADMINISTRATION.

J

acob Palis, the newly elected president of TWAS who presided over the meeting, noted

that its creation reflected the “growing maturity of TWAS” and served as recognition that

the Academy, given its increasing size and impact, needed “more formal mechanisms” for dis-

cussing its finances and programmatic activities with representatives from the Italian gov-

ernment and UNESCO. 

The committee, Palis added, “is not only designed to oversee TWAS’s budget and pro-

grammes, but also represents an opportunity for the Academy to officially discuss its work,

on an annual basis,

with its two most

important partners.”

Adolfo Barattolo,

deputy director-gen-

eral for Italy’s Min-

istry of Foreign Affairs, who led the Italian delegation attending the meeting, added that he

hoped “the committee’s supervision would help the Academy function in even more efficient

and effective ways.”

Walter Erdelen, assistant director-general for natural sciences at UNESCO, observed that

the Steering Committee “could serve as an important link between UNESCO and the Italian

government and could help create closer cooperation among the international scientific

organizations and research centres that are located in Italy and largely funded by the Italian

government.” He hoped, for example, that the committee could help open the door for

stronger ties between TWAS and UNESCO’s regional office in Venice. 

The goals articulated by both Barattolo and Erdelen have been explicitly outlined in an

official agreement signed by UNESCO and the Italian government in 1998. The agreement

TWAS Steering Committee

Meets for the First Time

E D I T O R I A L

calls for the Steering Committee to help

maintain “proper coordination and ration-

al use” of the resources at TWAS’s disposal;

to facilitate the functioning of TWAS’s

administration and programmatic activi-

ties; and to help ensure that the Academy’s

activities are coordinated with other inter-

national scientific institutions in Trieste

and Italy, especially those operating under

the aegis of UNESCO.

Specifically, the first meeting of the Steer-

ing Committee consisted of an overview of

the Academy’s strategic objectives and activi-

ties presented by Mohamed H.A. Hassan,

TWAS’s executive director; a review of the

2006 financial accounts; and a discussion of the prospects for locating a permanent home for

the TWAS secretariat in Trieste.

The committee also formally approved the Academy’s 2007 budget, including the financ-

ing of the Academy’s affiliated organizations – the InterAcademy Panel on International

Issues (IAP), the InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP), the Third World Organization for

Women in Science (TWOWS) and the newly created Consortium for Science, Technology and

Innovation for the South (COSTIS), which will operate in partnership with the Group of 77

and China.

“TWAS’s first Steering Committee meeting enabled officials from all three organizations

– the Italian government, UNESCO and TWAS – to begin a dialogue on the future direction

of the Academy,” says Palis. 

“The seriousness and good will that drove our discussions indicate that we are off to a

good start,” Palis added. “I think I speak for all of the participants when I say that I am con-

fident that this marks the beginning of a closer, more fruitful relation-

ship that is likely to pay important dividends for advancing our

shared objectives in mutually beneficial and effective ways.”        

I

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STEERING MEMBERS

The TWAS Steering Committee is composed of one

representative appointed by UNESCO; two repre-

sentatives appointed by the Italian government;

and two representatives from developing countries,

one of which is designated by UNESCO’s director-

general and the other by the Italian government. In

addition to Adolfo Barattolo, Walter Erdelen, Jacob

Palis and Mohamed Hassan, members of the first

Steering Committee include: Ismail Serageldin,

director, 

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria,



Egypt, and Edoardo Vesentini, president, 

Accade-


mia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome, Italy.

In 1983, I visited the Dead Sea with

my family. I fondly remember the

high-pitched laughter that accompa-

nied my daughters’ repeated attempts

to dive into the sea’s tepid water. The

harder they tried, the more difficult –

indeed impossible – it became to sink

beneath the surface.

T

he Dead Sea’s relentless buoyancy has been known

since the time of Aristotle (304-322 BCE) who

wrote about a body of water “where no fish live and

people float.” The sea’s glorious history, however, far

predates the Greek philosopher’s comments. It served

as a refuge for King David; as the location for the cities

of Sodom and Gomorrah; as a health resort for Herod

the Great; and as the primary source of bitumen used

to mummify the Egyptian pharaohs. 

It goes without saying that the Dead Sea is a place

of timeless wonder that has cast a spell on endless gen-

erations. The sea is located in the

Jordan Rift Valley on the border

between Jordan to the east and

Palestine and Israel to the west.

Resting some 400 metres below sea

level, its shores are the lowest areas

of dry land on Earth, although some

ice-encrusted sections in Antarctica

run deeper. It is also the saltiest body of water on our

planet. 


With salinity levels averaging in excess of 30 per-

cent (producing a density that kept my daughters

afloat despite their best efforts to submerge them-

selves), water in the Dead Sea is 10 times saltier than

that of other seas (the Mediterranean, for example,

has an average salinity of 3 percent). Even the world’s

seawater, with average salinity concentrations of 8 per-

cent, is far less salty and buoyant than the Dead Sea.

More than two decades later, I still remember

Prince El-Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan’s response to my

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F E AT U R E

BETTER RED 

THAN MED

WAT E R   L E V E L S   I N   T H E   D E A D   S E A ,   A   U N I Q U E   S A L I N E   E N V I R O N M E N T,   H AV E   B E E N

D E C L I N I N G   O V E R   T H E   PA S T   5 0   Y E A R S .   FA R O U K   E L - B A Z   ( T WA S   F E L L O W   1 9 8 5 )

E X A M I N E S   C U R R E N T   P R O P O S A L S   T O   R E P L E N I S H   T H E   D E A D   S E A   B E F O R E   I T

E VA P O R AT E S   I N T O E X T I N C T I O N .   S U C H   E F F O R T S ,   H E   S AY S ,   W O U L D   N O T   O N LY

E N S U R E   T H E   D E A D   S E A’ S   L O N G - T E R M   S U R V I VA L   B U T   A L S O   H E L P   T O   R E D U C E

T E N S I O N S   I N   O N E   O F   T H E   W O R L D ’ S   M O S T   T R O U B L E D   R E G I O N S .


daughters’ joyful experience. He smiled warmly. Then

he quickly turned to a more serious subject, asking me

to voice a scientific opinion on the options for its sur-

vival: “Med-Dead or Red-Dead?” he asked.

His comment was a shorthand reference to an issue

of critical importance to the region and especially to

Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, all of

which border and have deeply root-

ed historical ties to the Dead Sea.

The sea is drying up at an

increasingly rapid pace. Between

1970 and 2006, its water level

dropped more than 5 percent, from

395 to 418 metres below sea level. 

To reverse this alarming trend, water experts have

proposed two alternative strategies, both of which

would link the Dead Sea to other bodies of water. One

strategy would involve digging a canal between the

Dead Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, the so-called

Med-Dead option. The other strategy would involve dig-

ging a canal and laying water pipes between the Dead

Sea and the Red Sea, the so-called Red-Dead option.

Prince El-Hassan, in effect, was asking whether, in my

scientific opinion, I would prefer the Mediterranean or

the Red Sea connection.

The Dead Sea draws on two sources of water. By far

the major source is the Jordan River, which flows

through Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. A tranquil

setting and scorching temperatures lead to rapid rates

of evaporation. Average winter temperatures along the

sea’s coast range between 20° and 35ºC and rarely drop

below 10ºC. In summer, meanwhile, temperatures

average a searing 30° to 40ºC. 

Yet, until the 1950s, the rate of

water intake roughly equalled the

rate of water loss due to evapora-

tion. That changed, however, as

Israel and, to a lesser extent, Jordan

and Syria began to extract upstream

water from the Jordan River to meet the demands of

their growing populations. Less than 7 percent of the

upstream flow of the Jordan River currently reaches the

sea, largely because of diversions made for irrigation and

drinking water in support of expanding populations.

The second, less significant, source of water for the

Dead Sea comes from three sparsely rain-fed channels

lying to the east — Wadis Mujib, Karak and Hasa. The

proliferation of irrigated farms, which draw water

from these wadis, has contributed to reducing inflow

to the Dead Sea. 

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The sea is drying up 

at an increasingly 

rapid pace.


Over the past half century, water levels in the Dead

Sea have fallen at a rate of roughly one metre per year.

The surface area of the sea, which was 1,000 square

kilometres in 1960, has shrunk to 670 square kilome-

tres today. While people may not be able to sink in the

Dead Sea, they may soon be able to stand on its bed

without getting wet. Experts estimate that if the cur-

rent rate of depletion continues,

the Dead Sea could disappear with-

in the next half century, turning

into an exposed environment of

rock, salt and sand.



REVIVING THE DEAD

Proposals for connecting the

Mediterranean Sea to the Dead

Sea were formulated well before the current water

crisis. Indeed they were first discussed in the mid

19th century as a way for the region to take advan-

tage of the labour-saving benefits of water mills.

Such proposals became even more appealing with

the advent of hydropower for the production of elec-

tricity. 

Proponents theorized that the 400-metre drop in

terrain between the Mediterranean and Dead Seas

would enable the downward flow of water to drive tur-

bines that could turn mechanical energy into electrici-

ty. Theodor Herzl, one of the fathers of Zionism, popu-

larized the idea in his 1902 novel, Altneuland, or Old



New Land

. Three-quarters of a century later, US-based

groups revived the idea by drafting workable construc-

tion plans, contending that the overall benefits of the

project would far outweigh its

costs.


This so-called Gaza-to-Masada

canal, designed by the Mediter-

ranean Dead Sea Company in 1983,

would traverse the Mediterranean

coast and then cross the Gaza and

Negev Deserts and parts of the west

bank of the Jordan River. 

The Dead Sea would undoubtedly be replenished.

But there is also a distinct danger that salt water

would seep into the substrate (through porous

bedrock and/or fractures) to mix with the groundwa-

ter and increase its salinity. The Dead Sea would be

saved but at the risk of reducing supplies of fresh

drinking water in a region where every drop counts.

Many observers, including myself, concluded that the

trade-off was unacceptable.

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Red-Dead has become

the only strategy

discussed by the

international scientific

community.


When I conveyed this concern to Prince El-Hassan,

with supporting data from space images, he told me

that Jordanian groundwater experts shared this fear. 

Following the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty of 1994,

both options were again considered. A consensus was

reached that the Red-Dead, and not the Med-Dead,

option would be the best strategy for saving the Dead

Sea from extinction. Over the past decade, the Red-

Dead has become the only strategy discussed by the

international scientific community.

The Red-Dead project calls for the construction of

either a canal and/or pipelines to carry water from the

northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan some 200

kilometres northward to the Dead Sea. The gradient

would be sufficient to create a rush of water capable of

both generating electrical power and channelling the

water through saline-filtering membranes for desalina-

tion. Most importantly, this solution would ultimately

refill the Dead Sea to its original level, a process that

could take 10 to 20 years to complete, depending on

the amount of water pumped.

The intent of the Red-Dead project is to restore the

level of water in the Dead Sea to the level of 1930, which

environmentalists who have studied the Dead Sea’s bac-

teria, chemistry and salinity stratification deem the ideal

level. The Red-Dead canal/pipeline, simply put, is

designed to return the Dead Sea to its former state. 

Cost, of course, also enters into the calculations.

Experts generally agree that the construction of a

canal would amount to some US$5 billion compared

to only US$800 million for the construction of a

pipeline, which would preclude the development of

tourist facilities.

HELLO SUN, GOOD-BYE ALLERGIES 

The long-term economic value of the Red-Dead solu-

tion largely resides in its potential to generate tourism

across the region. Low elevations, extraordinary salt

concentrations and high evaporation rates create a

thick haze over the Dead Sea.

In most places, such conditions would deter

tourists. But that’s not the case here. That’s because

the haze blocks ultraviolet B rays that cause sunburn,

allowing tourists to bask in the sun without fearing for

their health. The air, moreover, is oxygen-rich and

pollen-free. Thus ‘therapeutic skin tourism’ flourishes

year round.

At present, the most attractive blueprint for the

Red-Dead project calls for the construction of a canal

six or seven kilometres north of Aqaba. As the canal

reaches the high bluffs of Wadi Araba, which straddles

Jordan and Israel, a subterranean pipeline would pick

up where the canal left off and continue northward,

ultimately discharging water into the Dead Sea. When

fully operational, the system would channel 1,900 mil-

lion cubic tonnes of water a year into the sea, gradual-

ly raising the sea to its historic levels. Proponents of

this option also note that there would be an enduring

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aesthetic value to such work and that the shorelines

could be used for recreation and tourism.

A project of this size, of course, must be subjected

to cost-benefit analyses. In addition to the financial

costs already discussed, environmentalists have also

warned about potential environmental damage. They

suggest that mixing water from the Red Sea with the

unique aquatic system of the Dead

Sea may cause many changes.

They contend, for instance, that

combining marine water with the

delicate mix of bromide, potash,

magnesium and other salts of the

Dead Sea could induce algal

growth or even produce toxic emis-

sions. The colour of the water could change from blue

to red to brown, and the water itself, with diverse

chemical compositions, could actually separate into

distinctive layers. The consequences would not only be

unsightly but could also create unpredictable ecologi-

cal problems.

Yet, if all works out, there would undoubtedly be

appealing benefits, including the provision of energy,

fresh (desalinated) water, and new potentially prof-

itable venues for tourism. All of this, of course, means

added jobs in a region where steady employment is in

short supply. 

These potential benefits are not lost on Prince El-

Hassan, who has just asked a committee of experts to

present what he hopes will be the last scientific evalu-

ation of the Red-Dead project – an evaluation that will

likely lend strong support for moving ahead. 

Perhaps more importantly, the

cross-border cooperation between

Jordan, Israel and Palestine inher-

ent in such a project could help to

nurture a sense of goodwill in a

troubled region. Such a develop-

ment would ultimately dwarf any

financial considerations, no matter

how significant they may be.

We’ve tried ‘atoms for peace’. Perhaps it’s now time

to turn to ‘water for peace’.     

I




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