Editor's note: This article appears today on Yale Environment360, where the full story is available.
The River Jordan has flowed freely for thousands of years, its name immortalized in the Hebrew Bible and its lush upper reaches once known as the gates to the Garden of Eden. This summer, however, large sections of this storied river were reduced to a trickle, the water so low that grass fires spread freely across the Jordan Valley between Israel and Jordan. Steadily drained over the past half century to quench the thirst and grow the crops of the people of Israel, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories, the Jordan River has been dealt a deathblow recently by a severe drought and by yet another tributary dam, this one on the Jordanian-Syrian border.
In recent years, all that saved much of the lower Jordan from becoming a desiccated channel has been the agricultural runoff, raw human sewage, diverted saline spring water, and contaminated wastes from fish farms that have been pumped into it. But now even that effluent barely restores a flow to the Jordan, the river where Jesus Christ was baptized and which has long been a vital stopover on the migratory pathway of tens of millions of birds en route between Europe and Africa.
The degradation highlights the failure of the governments of Israel, Jordan, and Syria to take serious steps to rescue a 205-mile river that has deep meaning for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Although these governments have paid lip service to bringing the Jordan back to life, they have in fact encouraged water withdrawals - mainly for irrigated agriculture - that have led to its near-disappearance. This ecological catastrophe has been overshadowed by decades of war and regional conflict. Indeed, for the past 60 years, much of the river - a fenced and mined border zone between Israel and Jordan - has been off-limits, enabling its draining to take place out of sight and out of mind.
The governments of the region have blamed the conflict for their lack of action, but as the citizens' group I help run - EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East - has shown, international cooperation to resuscitate the Jordan is possible. Working with local communities, my Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli colleagues are striving to restore water to the river. The goal of our group - the region's only multinational organization - is to become a catalyst for comprehensive water policy reform. We are aided by an unexpected phenomenon: In a region where people often feel helpless after years of turmoil, our efforts at environmental peacemaking offer an opportunity for constructive action, dialogue, and cooperation.
Read the rest of the story in Yale Environment360.
- Gidon Bromberg
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