Sunday, December 3, 2006

Palestinian and Israeli artificial islands

One of the main issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the division of land west of the Jordan River among the two entities. For some time now Professor (emeritus) Michael Burt from my faculty claims that there is a way to reduce the conflict between the two nations that stems from, among other things, shortage of land.

The Israel coastal plain is home to 70 per cent of the country's population, some 4.5 million people. There are some 3,500 sq. k. in the coastal plain. In a business as usual scenario, by the year 2040 this population is expected to increase to above 9 millions.

In the Ghaza strip of the Palestinian Authority there are some 1.1 million people. The strip is 350 sq. k. The population is expected to increase relatively quickly and by the year 2040 it will be 4.4 millions. This is an unbearable density.

Burt proposes that we utilize the relatively shallow coastal waters of the southern Mediterranean, along the Ghaza and Israeli coast, to build a series of artificial islands that will relieve the expected future population pressures. Burt proposes a "Blue Avenue" in a form of chain of islands with "Blue Parks" that will be equivalent to green parks.

Lest you think that this is just a dream, Burt assembled a team of engineers and proceeded to analyze various aspects of the endeavor. Burt invented sponge like water breakers and designed various types of artificial islands.

At one point Burt asked me to perform some simple economic calculations. The economics of the islands is doable. For example, the cost of building an island is 8 times the value of land in the Haifa Bay area. Luck would have it that Haifa Bay is the home of Israel's petrochemical industry. It occupies a piece of land that creates a polluted corridor 8 times its size. By removing the petrochemicals, the power station, the airport and some smaller activities to the proposed islands, it is possible to create a new city next to Haifa and double Haifa's population. The resulting total value of land ex post the construction of the city will pay for the land needed for the current activities on the islands and land for future expansion of 100 per cent.

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