By Hana Namrouqa

JORDAN VALLEY – Conservationists have called for rehabilitating the Jordan River to restore vital ecosystems, save the shrinking Dead Sea and create tourism opportunities in the area.

During a tour of the Jordan Valley on Saturday, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) Chairman Munqeth Mehyar urged the authorities to connect Jordan Valley households to the sewage network and step up monitoring of industries operating in the area to bring an end to the pollution of the Jordan River.

In the Jordan Valley town of Mashare, around 10,000 people use cesspits to get rid of their sewage, the contents of which often leak and overflow, polluting the streets and the river basin, according to FoEME.

Mehyar noted that water from the river was diverted for drinking purposes, while it is now being used for dumping wastewater and sewage.

An FoEME report issued in May last year concluded that diversion of water by Israel, Syria and Jordan for domestic and agricultural purposes has turned the river into a mixture of sewage, fish farm water, agricultural run-off and saline water from salt springs around Lake Tiberias.

The report indicated that the Jordan River carried 1.3 billion cubic metres of water annually from Lake Tiberias to the Dead Sea until the 1930s, but since then it has lost over 98 per cent of its flow, which has left it a highly degraded ecosystem.

Mehyar also criticised the absence of a wastewater treatment plant in the Jordan Valley, particularly in the Mashare area, which is also home to the Jordan Gateway Industrial Park, an industrial free trade zone between Jordan and Israel.

The industrial park houses two factories, owned by Israeli investors, which manufacture filters, medical equipment and electronics, while a third plant for fodder is scheduled to start operations soon, according to Mudhi Rayahneh, head of the park’s public relations department.

He noted that the park uses freshwater for its industrial operations, while the wastewater is stored in cesspits.

“The Water Authority of Jordan was supposed to secure a well for the park, but this did not happen because the water was brackish and needed a treatment unit,” Rayahneh said on Saturday.

Criticising the use of freshwater for industrial operations at Jordan Gateway, Mehyar pointed out that cesspits are not designed to store industrial wastewater from the park’s factories.

He underscored the importance of building a wastewater treatment plant that serves Jordan Valley residents and industries to prevent the pollution of the Jordan River.