The Jordan River is unique in its natural and cultural wealth, but is threatened by excessive water diversion and pollution – it has been treated as a backyard dumping ground.
The Jordan River Valley, situated in the Great Rift Valley, is of great cultural, religious and geographical importance. The river is hugely significant to billions of people from diverse religions and countries worldwide but is threatened by excessive water diversion and pollution – for a long time having been treated as a backyard dumping ground.
Diversion of 96 per cent of its fresh water, in addition to discharge of large quantities of untreated sewage, threatens to irreversibly damage the River Valley. Israel, Jordan and Syria have all diverted its upstream waters for domestic and agricultural uses, leaving precious little fresh water for the river and its once thriving ecosystem.
Historically, the River Jordan has always been a meeting place and crossing place for plants, animals, and human societies. The most concrete visual example of the historical tradition of river crossings can be seen at a spot appropriately named “Old Bridges” where 3 bridges cross the river’s width; a 2000 year old Roman Bridge, an old Ottoman Bridge, and a more recent British Mandate bridge.
Archaeological evidence on either side of the rivers’ banks, from cities like Beit She’an (Israel), Pella and Umm Qais (Jordan), also shows commercial and cultural connections between major cities of the Valley. Parallel developments through several historical periods – similar types of pottery, mosaics and iron tools – indicate that cities across the valley had the same type of population from an anthropological perspective.
The Jordan River’s rich symbolic value and importance to three of the world’s major religions are by far the greatest attraction for tourists. The River Jordan is mentioned in several stories of the Old Testament. Genesis 13:10-11 refers to the beauty of the Jordan Valley: “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord.” Moses, a prophet to three of the world’s most prominent religions, was forbidden from entering the Promised Land and instead made to gaze famously down upon the Valley from Mount Nebo. The River is also closely associated with the life of Jesus Christ, where he has been traditionally thought to have been baptized along its banks. Although the exact site of the Baptism of Jesus is disputed, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock each year to sites on either side of the river to be close to the original site. In addition, many of the venerable companions to the prophet Mohammad are buried near its banks, making it an important site for Muslims around the world as well.
The Jordan Valley is also a lush, wetland ecosystem that is the biological heart of the region at large. In addition to the flora and fauna along the ground, the valley is one of the world’s most important crossroads for migratory birds, 500 million birds migrate each spring and autumn season, an attraction to birdwatchers from across the globe. Additionally, the Valley is part of the globally significant Great Rift Valley, containing the lowest point on earth and numerous unique geophysical formations.
Sadly, in the last 50 years, the River Jordan’s annual flow has dropped from more than 1.3 billion cubic meters per year to less than 30 million cubic meters. With Israel, Jordan and Syria, each grabbing as much clean water as they can, it is ironically the sewage that is keeping the river alive today. Since much of the river is a closed military zone and off limits to the public, most people simply do not know that the river is drying up.
We’ve embarked on a broad campaign to raise awareness of the demise of the Lower Jordan River.
A Shared Vision and a Measure of Progress
Responding to years of advocacy, national governments and municipalities are taking first steps to prevent dumping or leaking of sewage into the river. New treatment plants are in development in Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian communities, often with the financial support from the international community. 2013 saw the first release of clean water into the river in 49 years with the Israeli Water Authority allocating 9 mcm and committing to 30 mcm per annum in the near future. These steps set important precedents for future allocations, but fall far short of the 400 mcm needed to ecologically rehabilitate the river and maximize its economic benefits.
In 2015, we released the first-ever Regional NGO Master Plan for the Sustainable Development of the Jordan Valley, putting scientifically sound and economically feasible policy recommendations behind our vision for the Jordan Valley. With the support of national governments, this NGO master plan can become the blueprint for the revival of the River.
These maps were produced by EcoPeace. They can be freely republished provided that credit is given to EcoPeace. Please notify us of the use of the map and send us a copy of the publication.