Magazine article The Christian Century

Much of Jordan River Polluted with Sewage

Magazine article The Christian Century

Much of Jordan River Polluted with Sewage

Article excerpt

At the Alumot Dam on the edge of Kibbutz Deganya, a cooperative community located a couple of miles south of the Sea of Galilee, you can smell the Jordan River long before you see it. Once you are there, two Jordan rivers come into view.

North of the dam, the water is clean enough for swimming, and every year tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims flock to Yardenit, the picturesque baptism site on the Israeli side of the Jordan, the fiver in which Jesus was baptized.

South of the dam the river is tainted with untreated and partially treated sewage, saline water and fish pond effluents that tumble from large drainage pipes built into the riverbed. The stench is choking.

This pollution, coupled with the diversion of much of the river's clean water by Israel, Syria and Jordan, is endangering the river--the backdrop of many biblical narratives--to the point of extinction.

"In the summer, the Lower Jordan River [the river below the Galilee] is dry in certain places, and this is a totally man-made problem," said Gidon Bromberg, an Israeli environmentalist, as he watched the toxic water drain menacingly into the river, which meanders another 200 kilometers from this junction.

"The lower fiver is an open sewage canal, and the sad irony is that the sewage water is keeping the river flowing. Being baptized in the water below the dam--something that takes place on the Jordanian side of the river--cannot be too spiritually uplifting," said Bromberg, who heads the Israeli branch of Friends of the Earth Middle East.

The Old and New Testaments speak of the lush Jordan River Valley, which stood in stark contrast to the parched desert landscape beyond, as the gate to the Garden of Eden.

The book of Genesis says that Lot decided to settle in the valley because he found it "well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord." Moses dreamed of crossing the fiver into the Promised Land but died in Jordan, atop Mount Nebo. The Bible says John the Baptist found refuge by the river, where he baptized countless followers, including Jesus. It's the place where, Gospel writers say, the spirit of God "descended like a dove" on Christ.

The Jordan River's main water source is precipitation from Mount Hermon, a snow-covered peak shared uneasily by Israel and Syria in the north. Three streams originating in Lebanon, Israel and the contested Golan Heights also feed the river. On its way to the Dead Sea, its final destination, the Jordan swells the Huleh Lake and the Sea of Galilee and waters the Jordan Valley.

The river's slow but steady decline began in the 1950s, when Israel started to divert the water for agriculture and other domestic use. …

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