As the only point of access to the river in Jordan – “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” and one of the few outlets in Israel -“Qasr el Yahud”, symbolizes a common ground for people on both sides of the border. It further represents a sacred place for people of different faiths as Muslim, Jewish, and Christian pilgrims from around the world pass by the Jordan River on their spiritual treks. In order to prevent the deterioration of this cherished resource, youth water trustees are leading the way towards rehabilitating the Jordan River through shared environmental stewardship.
On Friday, June 3rd, Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian youth water trustees stood by the banks of the Jordan River to participate in a cross-border event. At “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” – where John the Baptist baptized Jesus – the Jordanian youth water trustees lined up along the river, facing their Palestinian-Israeli counterparts across its waters. The Palestinian-Israeli youth began a song calling for the rehabilitation of the river. The Jordanian youth trustees joined in for the chorus. “We will, we will change it,” they sang and clapped in unison. Although signs were not allowed on the Jordanian side, the Palestinian-Israeli youth proudly held up posters with messages calling to rehabilitate the river.
Since 2001, Good Water Neighbours (GWN) has worked with communities on either side of the border to create mutually agreed upon solutions to common water problems. The project encourages cross-border dialogue and information sharing. Youth water trustees are at the heart of the project’s design. The project engages school communities to come up with creative methods for more efficient water use and designs outreach education and awareness programs. It also invites alumni of the project to teach younger students about sustainable living and the ecology of the Jordan River Valley.
I asked an alumni of the water trustees program about the condition of the river. He told me that the river once contained 1.3 billion cubic meters of water and supported a lush and diverse ecosystem. Today, the river is small and polluted. Untreated sewage and agricultural runoff contaminate its waters. Climate change threatens the already unstable ecosystem, in which the biodiversity has been diminished by a staggering 50% since the 1970s. He explained that in order to protect this vital resource, youth from Israel, Palestine, and Jordan work together to educate others about the state of the river and the steps necessary to rehabilitate the river.
EcoPeace’s Good Water Neighbors project is supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
This article contributed by Sarah Dahnke. Sarah is an intern in Amman office while she studies for her MA in International Development studies.