JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel and Jordan signed a declaration of intent Thursday at the UN climate conference to preserve and protect their shared Jordan River – a holy waterway that is nearly running dry due to climate change, pollution and other threats.
The agreement, reached at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is an important step in cooperation, where world leaders are discussing how to mitigate the increasing impact of a changing climate.
Water cooperation was a key feature of the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries but the cold relationship over the past two decades has complicated efforts to increase water supplies to Jordan.
The plan announced Thursday is short on details. He says Israel and Jordan have pledged to try to reduce river pollution by building wastewater treatment facilities and upgrading sewage systems to prevent riverside cities from dumping raw sewage into the waters, according to a statement from the Israeli government.
Both countries also aim to promote sustainable agriculture, control runoff from farm fields and reduce pesticide use, he added, without elaborating on how.
“Cleaning up pollutants and hazards, restoring water flow and strengthening natural ecosystems will help us prepare and adapt to the climate crisis,” said Minister for Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg.
Jordan’s state-run Petra news agency said the plan is expected to increase water supplies and create job opportunities “for those living on both sides of the Jordan River, including Palestinians”.
EcoPeace Middle East, a cross-border environmental group promoting Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian cooperation on water issues, said the agreement to restore the Jordan River is “a critical climate adaptation measure that could help 50% of biodiversity to bring back what has been lost due to decades of pollution and diversion of fresh water.”
The waterway also separates Jordan to the east from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which the Palestinians seek for their future independent state. There are also traditional sites in the river where Jesus is believed to have been baptized, which attracts tourism income for both countries.
In recent years the once rushing waters of the Jordan River have been reduced as population growth and climate change affect them.
Jordan reported Thursday that the river’s runoff has dropped to only 7% of what it once was. Because its waters flow into the Dead Sea, the salt lake is now disappearing – its levels are falling three feet a year.