The Jordan River is gone. According to Abdel Rahman Sultan of Friends of the Earth Middle East, what little remains consists of untreated or poorly treated sewage, as well as other waste water. Hardly the grand river of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian narratives.
In the Dead Sea area, Abdel showed us terrible evidence of the impact that water diversion, climate change, population growth, corruption, subsidies that encourage farming on the desert, and other contributing factors have had on water in Jordan and the people who depend on it. We saw the visible lines on the banks of the Dead Sea that demonstrate how it has dropped by 85 feet in just 15 years. As the level of the Dead Sea has lowered, it has caused the seepage of ground water which, in turn, has created thousands of sinkholes and seismic instability. We witnessed the remains of houses, fields, businesses, and roads–all destroyed as they sank into the earth.
Even those who escape this direct devastation feel the impact of the water crisis in their daily lives. Abdel explained, for example, that his family has access to water only 6 hours every week. On that day, the family bathes, washes clothing, cleans the house, and then fills their water tank; the water in that tank needs to last them the rest of the week. We saw the problem of plumbing without water ourselves when we washed up at our luncheon host’s home: her young daughter poured a bit of water out of a cup onto our hands so we could use the soap and then rinse it off, as the tap was completely dry.
Despite these obstacles, members of Friends of the Earth Middle East–the only non-governmental organization here with headquarters in Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank–courageously continue to set aside the usual sources of tensions that exist so they can work on the crisis that threatens them all: water.