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Friends of the Earth Middle East.

The once mighty Jordan River resembles a small creek in some of the dry southern portions of it today.

Restore the Jordan River: Mideast environmentalists seek support in Chicago

by Monika Wnuk
Oct 09, 2013

Critical concerns about restoring water levels and sanitizing the Jordan River in the Middle East came to Chicago Tuesday.

The Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders of Friends of the Earth Middle East spoke about the drought-ridden river at the University of Illinois at Chicago Tuesday, hoping to garner financial support in Chicago.

One of the leaders attributed a part of the problem to climate change, with responsibility, he said, falling heavily on the West.

If the Jordan River were restored to its natural flow, without diversions for agricultural, municipal or industrial uses, 45.9 billion cubic feet would flow down the river to the Dead Sea. Overuse has reduced the river to 3 percent of its historical flow, leaving parts of the southern end of the river completely dry.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, compared the Jordan to a river closer to home.

“We’d like to see the River Jordan flow one day as the Chicago River flows today,“ said Bromberg.

He identified diversions as the immediate source of low water levels, but pointed to the long regional dryness that climate change would mean for the Middle East, calling attention to the need for global support in mitigating the issue.

“That is your problem. I mean it’s the United States, it’s China, it’s Europe that is largely responsible for climate change globally or in the marginal parts of the world that we live in,” said Bromberg.

Globally, scientists are researching the long term effects of climate change on water resources, especially in the Middle East where the rain season only lasts from September through April.

“It’s a hot spot in the sense that it’s already a water scarce region,” said Dr. Rana Samuels, a climate scientists at Tel Aviv University.

Samuels’ research has coupled climate models and hydrological models to find that the combination of decreased rainfall and increased variability in rainfall will have what she called a “double whammy effect” on the water cycle.

“If there is going to be a 10 percent reduction in rainfall, then the loss of water is higher than 10 percent,” she said.

She explained that for countries with largely clay-based soil at the southern end of the Jordan River, decreased rainfall and increased variability could mean longer gaps in rainfall. Longer periods without rain would produce impenetrable soil and encourage runoff.

Samuels said that Israel is very aware of depleting water resources and that large desalination efforts of water from the Mediterranean Sea have been implemented to tackle this issue.

Desalination has helped Israel garner a surplus of water, but this has spurred controversy in surrounding nations, especially in Palestine, which experiences water shortages from the Jordan River and does not benefit from Israel’s desalination efforts. Friends of the Earth Middle East is involved in bringing Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders together to restore and sanitize the Jordan River, blurring the divide and getting past the politics.

“Water doesn’t recognize borders,” said Elif Kalan a fellow at UIC’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement who is from Turkey and spent some time studying water management in Jordan through the European Union’s Salto Youth Program.“Those resources must be based on the needs of humans rather than political reasons,” she said.