Earth Day 2015 – A Personal Reflection

By: Ecopeace Middle East
April 29, 2015

I have been working at EcoPeace for 9 months and have spent much of that time working on Jordan River projects. I can easily give the elevator pitch: how the Lower Jordan River is flowing at less than 5% of its original flow, how it is a heavily polluted body of water, how the river’s decline is causing problems for millions of migratory birds and threatening the Dead Sea and the people living by its shores.

I was 13 the last time I visited the Jordan River. My family went tubing in the Upper Jordan River on a hot summer afternoon, and I remember being fascinated that I was floating between two countries (though, now I realize I was still very much in Israeli territory). Floating down the river at 13, I was oblivious to the notion that a river could be polluted. I was out in nature and nature, as opposed to cityscapes, were clean and pristine places, at least to my mind.

Coming back, almost a decade later, even with a now trained and attentive eye, the river looks the same, calmly winding down a surprisingly green landscape. Perhaps it is because our visit began in the still clean section of the river. But for many of the other tour participants (many of whom were from the US Embassy and USAID) this was their second trip to the Lower Jordan River in recent memory and they, certainly, were able to tell the difference.

Enjoying the recreational value that a clean stretch of the Jordan River can offer
Enjoying the recreational value that a clean stretch of the Jordan River can offer

When they weren’t hearing about the progress that has been made in the past few years—the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant, the release of 9MCM of water annually from the Sea of Galilee into the Lower Jordan River, the reconstruction of wetlands to restore endemic species, and the advances in public awareness—the participants recalled their last visit to the Jordan River, when sewage flowed freely and the fumes that wafted off the bubbling sludge were less than pleasant to be around. They were quite impressed by the change.

Signs of change - "Returning Life to the River" thanks to the efforts of so many people.
Signs of change – “Returning Life to the River” thanks to the efforts of so many people.

It was an exciting experience for me, as well. My conception of the river had been the elevator pitch, not the successes. You tend to get so focused on the rhetoric of the problem, that you can overlook the successes already taking place.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to successfully rehabilitate the Jordan River. After all, what we saw on this tour is only a small portion of the river. Making the entire Jordan River a success story will require effort, a serious political (and financial) commitment from the governments and people of Jordan, Israel, and Palestine (and, of course, generous international donors). But, from what we saw, it is clear that the work of EcoPeace and other stakeholders have paved a promising beginning for the rehabilitation of the Jordan River.

This post was contributed by Jessye Waxman

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