A report by joint Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalist organisation Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) released in May 2010 gives the grim warning that, unless drastic measures are taken, the Lower Jordan River will run dry by the end of 2011.
Currently fed by a mix of saline water and sewage, the Lower Jordan River urgently needs 400 million cubic metres (mcm) of water annually, to be expanded to 600 mcm over time for the river to once again function as a healthy ecosystem. The river's salinity level should be reduced to no more than 750 parts per million.
The report entitled,
'An environmental flows report on the rehabilitation of the Lower
Jordan River,' calls on the governments of the region to work
together towards the river's rehabilitation as a concrete project of
the Middle East peace process.
Nader Khateeb, FoEME Palestinian Director states, "The Israeli government who has diverted the largest share of the river's waters has the responsibility to return some 220 mcm, the Jordanian government 90 mcm and Syrian government 100 mcm respectively. As part of the Jordan River's rehabilitation, Palestine, who has been denied any access to the river, needs to additionally receive a fair share of river waters as a riparian to the river."
The Lower Jordan River and its tributaries are shared among Israel, Jordan and Palestine. The longest permanent river in the region, it stretches a distance of 217 kilometres from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. For much of its history, the river has been at the heart of a lush wetland eco-system, complete with cascading rapids, waterfalls and a rich biodiversity.
Today, however, the Lower Jordan River has been reduced to a trickle south of the Sea of Galilee, due to a mix of over-exploitation, pollution and a lack of regional management. The river's flow has been progressively modified since the building of the Degania dam in 1932. Both Israel and Jordan undertook major projects to diver the river's water for domestic and agricultural use in the 1960s, while Jordan and Syria built the Unity Dam on the Yarmouk River (a tributary of the Lower Jordan River) in 2007. This further reduced the water flow in the Jordan River to 20-30 million cubic metres â€“ 2 percent of its normal flow.
The average annual flows diverted by each country are estimated at 46.7 percent by Israel, 25.24 percent by Syria, 23.24 percent by Jordan and 5.05 percent by Palestine. Water issues and the Lower Jordan River played a major part in the peace treaty signed by Israel and Jordan in 1994, yet neither government has taken any concerted action to return fresh water to the river in the years since.