Jordan, Israel agree to clean up Jordan River

“Why should Jordan solve a problem created by Israel?” experts ask

Jordan River
(Photo: Shutterstock)
AMMAN — Jordan and Israel on Thursday signed a declaration of intent to rehabilitate the Jordan River, which is nearly running dry because of climate change, pollution, and other threats. اضافة اعلان

The agreement was signed during COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh by Water and Irrigation Minister Mohammad Najjar and his Israeli counterpart Tamar Zandberg.

Najjar was reported by Haaretz as saying that Jordan wishes to work with Israel on this issue, and that it hoped to secure the new Israeli government’s cooperation, adding that “this is a long-awaited declaration”.

The Ministry of Water and Irrigation did not publish the terms of the declaration, but Israeli media reported that it will include the ecological restoration of the waterway, protecting water resources from pollution, controlling agricultural pollution, waste, and pests, creating nature reserves and protected areas, as well as establishing tourism and historical heritage sites.

Also included is the building of wastewater treatment facilities, connecting towns along the river to advanced sewerage infrastructure, and improving the quality of the water, which consists primarily of sewage water produced by Israeli settlements.

A source at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation who spoke to Jordan News on condition of anonymity confirmed the terms published the Israeli media.

He added that the two parties did not agree on the source of funding for the projects, and said he had no knowledge when a detailed agreement will be signed.

International adviser on environmental matters and former UN Environment Program Executive Council rapporteur general, Sufyan Tell, was skeptical about the project.

“How should we believe that the Jordan River will be saved by Israel, which is the one that destroyed it in the first place,” he asked.

In 1964, Israel started diverting Jordan River, pumping over 500 million cubic meters of it annually toward the Naqab desert, he said.

In the past, the river used to have a flow of 700 million cubic meters a year; currently the figure stands at 30 million cubic meters, and includes treated sewage from nearby communities.

“Why should Jordan solve a problem that it did not create,” Tell asked again.

He noted that Israel is the one to blame for the current situation of the Jordan River, and stressed that the only solution is to stop the polluted water flowing into the river.

Jordan reported on Thursday that the river’s runoff has plummeted to a mere 7 percent of what it once was. Because its waters flow into the Dead Sea, the saltwater lake is now disappearing — its levels dropping by at least a meter per year.

Chairman of the Jordan Environmental Union Omar Shoshan told Jordan News that it is crucial to revive Jordan River, among other things, because of its spiritual significance.

He, also stressed that Israel is mainly responsible for the current situation of the river, adding that Jordan needs to negotiate intelligently and carefully, “since it has more leverage and because Israel is known for getting around international conventions”.

He said that there should be international guarantees in such negotiations and that “focus should be on solving the main problem, which is the drying up of the river”.

Executive Manager of the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature Mariam Jaja described the agreement as “another dangerous step that would harm Jordan,” stressing that it will negatively affect the country’s security.

She added that “the agreement is political, not environmental”, stressing that “the public opinion in Jordan should be taken into consideration by the government before signing such agreements”.

According to the Jordan News Agency, Petra, the plan is bound to increase water supplies and create job opportunities “for those living on both sides of the Jordan River, including the Palestinians”.

EcoPeace Middle East, a cross-border environmental group that has been promoting Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian cooperation on water issues, said the agreement to rehabilitate the Jordan River is “a critical climate adaptation measure that can help bring back 50 percent of the biodiversity lost because of decades of pollution and freshwater diversion”.

The group added that “in order to completely rehabilitate the river, mainly its southern stretch, the integration of the Palestinian Authority is also required, given that 60,000 Palestinians live along the Jordan Valley, with some of their sewage remaining untreated”.

The Palestinian Authority is not party to this agreement.

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