River Jordan will reportedly run dry next year as a consequence of overexploitation (File photo)
River Jordan will reportedly run dry next year as a consequence of overexploitation (File photo)

By Hana Namrouqa

AMMAN – The historic Jordan River, immortalised in the three holy books of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, will run dry by next year after overexploitation and pollution have turned it into a “trickle”, environmentalists warned on Monday.

Until the 1930s, the Jordan River carried 1.3 billion cubic metres of water annually from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, but since then it has lost over 98 per cent of its flow, which, according to a new environmental flow report on the Jordan River, has left it a highly degraded ecosystem.

The report issued by the Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME,) concluded that diversion of the river water by Israel, Syria and Jordan for domestic and agricultural purposes has left it consisting of only sewage, fish farm waters, agricultural run-off and saline water from salt springs around the Sea of Galilee.

Released at the “Bringing the Jordan River Back to Life: Strategies for Rehabilitation Conference”, the report indicated that Israel diverts the highest amount from the river, totalling 46.47 per cent, followed by Syria at 25.24 per cent, Jordan at 23.24 per cent and Palestine at 5.05 per cent.

To breathe life into the dying Jordan River and preserve the natural and cultural heritage site, the FoEME yesterday launched the Jordan River Rehabilitation Project, under which 400 million cubic metres (mcm) of freshwater will be channelled into the river, an amount which will increase to 600mcm over time.

In order to function as a healthy ecosystem, the river also requires one minor flood annually and reduction of the river’s salinity.

Underscoring the need to rehabilitate the Jordan River, HRH Princess Sumaya, president of El Hassan Science City and president of the Royal Scientific Society (RSS), said the repercussions of diverting the majority the river’s freshwater have become clear in many forms.

“One [of these forms] is the ongoing shrinking of the Dead Sea by a metre a year, which threatens to confine it into a pond by the year 2050. This shrinking problem is a small part of a much larger issue: the critical water shortage that is becoming a priority in our region,” Princess Sumaya said in a speech delivered on her behalf by FoEME Director Munqeth Mehyar at yesterday’s conference.

Jordan is working on the Red-Dead Canal Project seeking to address the environmental problem on the one hand, and produce power on the other.

Mehyar yesterday said the lower Jordan River’s status is “abysmal”, as it has dwindled over the decades from a mighty river to a mere heavily polluted stream.

“Now barely 70 million cubic metres flow into the river… this severely impacts the ecosystem and livelihood of the adjacent communities,” Mehyar said yesterday.

The Jordan River and its tributaries are shared among Jordan, Syrian, Palestine and Israel.

It is the longest permanent river in the region, stretching an aerial distance of 105 kilometres, with an actual stream channel length of 217 kilometres from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, according to the report.