foe middle east: rescue river jordan, save the dead sea
The World Bank is leading a project to restore water levels, and proposes to pump marine water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea via a 200 km pipeline. This project – dubbed the ‘Red-Dead Conduit’ - is highly controversial because of the risks it poses to three unique ecosystems: the Gulf of Aqaba, the Arava Valley and the Dead Sea itself.
Environmentalists have proposed alternative solutions involving the rehabilitation of the River Jordan, itself in dire straits. This river has flowed freely for thousands of years, its name immortalized in the Hebrew Bible and its lush upper reaches once known as the gates to the Garden of Eden. It is also a vital stopover for tens of millions of birds migrating between Europe and Africa.
Last summer, however, large sections of the river were finally reduced to a trickle. Steadily drained over the past half century by Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Palestine – increasingly for irrigated agriculture - the Jordan River was dealt a deathblow recently by a severe drought and the building of yet another tributary dam, on the Jordanian-Syrian border.
Yet the World Bank refused to consider the rehabilitation of the River Jordan as a way of saving the Dead Sea.
FoEI-affiliate Friends of the Earth Middle East / EcoPeace ran a high profile campaign to Save the Dead Sea. Through letters, media coverage and critiques of the Terms of Reference of the World Bank’s planned Feasibility Studies, they finally forced the Bank to hold public hearings at an early stage of the project.
In 2007 and 2008, FoE Middle East brought hundreds of people to public hearings in Palestine, Jordan and Israel, ensuring the Bank heard repeated objections to the idea that the Red Sea pipeline was the only feasible solution.
FoE Middle East also attracted international media attention to the campaign. Media highlights included an editorial in the Jordan Times and coverage in Time magazine, who awarded FoE Middle East’s activists their ‘Heroes of the Environment 2008’ Award.
As a result of FoE Middle East’s campaigning, the World Bank changed its Terms of Reference to include the rehabilitation of the River Jordan as an option for study.
FoE Middle East will build on this step forward, continuing its campaign for measures that will gradually return water to the Jordan and the Dead Sea.
Through a program called Good Water Neighbors, they are working with nine river communities — four Jordanian, three Israeli, and two Palestinian, all located on opposite banks — to conserve water and educate people about the value of the Jordan and its wetlands.
The second, and more challenging, task is to persuade national leaders to make the tough choices that will revitalize the Jordan: charging more for water, removing large subsidies to agricultural water users, and adopting large-scale conservation programs.
FoE Middle East is aided by an unexpected phenomenon: in a region where people often feel helpless after years of turmoil, their efforts at environmental peacemaking offer an opportunity for constructive action, dialogue, and cooperation.