Over extraction reduces Holy River to sewage channel

The lower stretches of the River Jordan, running between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, has little more than sewage flowing between its banks for large parts of the year, Friends of the Earth has warned.

Over-extraction, dams and pumping stations have diverted almost 90% of the river’s water away, leaving large areas facing the threat of drying up altogether during the summer. Friends of the Earth are calling for the River to be placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

“The River Jordan is at a critical juncture and is in danger of disappearing altogether if governments in the region do not take action immediately,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of FoE Middle East.

In the past 50 years, the river’s annual flow has dropped from more than one billion three hundred cubic metres to less than 100 million cubic metres. Of this, at least 20 million cubic metres is untreated sewage from Palestinian villages and Jewish settlements as well as effluent from fish farms and municipal waste water.

The pollutants then pour into the Dead Sea, helping the famous water course live up to its name.

The problems of the river are bound up with the political conflict of the region. In the 1960’s Israel tried to block the flow of the upper Jordan into the lower Jordan, Syria tried to build a dam to stop the water flowing into Israel, and Jordan built a canal to redirect the water of the main tributary to the river. Since then extraction for agriculture from all sides has escalated, leaving the river seriously depleted.

To try and initiate a peaceful solution to the water problem, Foe Middle East organised a conference on Peace Island in the middle of the river, with Ministers from Jordan, Israel and Palestine in attendance as well as UNESCO’s Deputy Director General.

“We are calling on our governments to work together to rehabilitate the Jordan, clean up the sewage and in turn bring peace and prosperity to the region through developing new tourism opportunities,” Mr Bromberg said.

The conservation group recognise that asking each country to divert less water in order to restore natural supply is a tall order, especially given the value of the resource in the area and the history of mistrust between the countries concerned.

However, it was hoping that the Israeli Environment Minister, Shalom Simchon, would use the meeting to announce new sewage plants to pump treated water, rather than raw sewage, into the river.

As yet, however, there has been no word that this will happen.

By David Hopkins

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