Mayors from 114 North American cities entered into an agreement to rehabilitate an endangered river halfway across the world. Launched at the recent Water After Borders (WAB) summit in Chicago, the partnership brings expertise in transboundary water system management to the Jordan River, a waterbody long embroiled in regional politics.
Led by EcoPeace: Middle East (formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East) and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, mayors of cities including Montreal, Toronto, Chicago and Detroit signed up to a partnership that will help raise funds and swap technical know-how.
“The importance of the Jordan River in our region is especially great for all the residents of the area – Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians – both on an environmental and economic level,” Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director for EcoPeace, told the Jerusalem Post.
EcoPeace is a project-oriented NGO made up of Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli environmentalists that promotes cooperative efforts to protect their shared eco-heritage. Their actions advance sustainable regional development and create conditions conducive to lasting regional peace.
Read more about using water cooperation as a powerful tool for regional stability and peace – link here.
The Jordan River Valley, a major freshwater source in a critically parched region, is under serious threat caused by decades of abuse. Over the past half century, the river’s annual flow has dropped from 1.3 billion cubic meters per year to less than 30 million cubic meters due largely to Israel, Jordan and Syria diverting nearly 96 per cent of its total fresh water volume for domestic and agricultural uses.
Flowing southward from its source in the mountains where Syria and Lebanon meet, the river passes through the Sea of Galilee, ending in the Dead Sea. Much of its 320-kilometer length forms the border between Israel and Jordan in the north and the West Bank and Jordan in the south.
The river looms large in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Hundreds of thousands of tourists travel annually to a small site on either side of the southern river alleged to be where John the Baptist christened Jesus. There, just north of the Dead Sea, the river is little more than a creek – less than 10 meters wide and two meters deep. Modern miracles occur daily, as pilgrims emerge from full-body immersion apparently unharmed by a dip in the fetid pools.
Much of the river travels through a closed military zone. With public access prohibited, many are unaware that the river is drying up and that remaining water flow is of poor quality.
EcoPeace works to raise awareness (see lead image, from their “Big Jump” campaign) asserting that restoration of river flow is vital towards saving both the river and the Dead Sea. More than just a river, the valley is also food generator and a wetland ecosystem that is the biological heart of the region. It also provides an important seasonal habitat for an estimated 500 million migratory birds.
Rehabilitation has been limping along. In March, the Israeli Water Authority announced that Tiberias sewage soon would flow to a new $30 USD million treatment facility, ending the dumping of the city’s untreated sewage into the river. Ironically, that liquid sludge has kept the river from completely disappearing.
The people and wildlife of this region depend on the same natural resources, and life on both sides of the river depends on river survival. As stated by Elizabeth Koch-Ya-ari in the EcoPeace video above, “Water knows no border…water does not see all these walls and borders that we put between each other”.
Said Bromberg, “We hope that the partnership…will lead to significant progress in the rehabilitation of the Jordan River,…an international partnership that has led to significant results in the rehabilitation of rivers and lakes around the world that are much larger than the Jordan River.”
Image of EcoPeace activists in the Jordan River from EcoPeace