The Importance of Water
Today we got to enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon at the Dead Sea Spa hotel where we were able to lather up in mineral rich mud and enjoy a very salty float in the Dead Sea. Very salty is a bit of an understatement. For anybody who has never been to the Dead Sea, it is difficult to truly understand just how salty it really is. A good example is something that I learned today: despite less than 10 Km separating the West Bank and Palestine or Israel, there is no border control that patrols the sea. This is because it is so salty that they believe you would simply dehydrate before ever possibly making it all the way across. Either way, it makes for a lovely sunset.
Now to more important issues. Before our arrival at the hotel, we spent the day with the Friends of the Earth Middle East organization (http://www.foeme.org/www/?module=home). This is a group of Environmentalists from Jordan, Israel, and Palestine who have come together to solve issues of environmental significance which cannot be solved unilaterally or even simply bilaterally. As our guide, Abdel (Jordanian) said, "my family tells me I am not nationalistic because I help Israelis. That's true, I am not nationalistic. I help anybody who I can help no matter where they are from or what there name is."
The issue of water is significant in the Middle East. In Jordan, the 4th water poorest country in the world, water demand is growing and the supply is shrinking. Citizens only have access to water one day a week and must store it until the next week when their taps are reopened. As I saw today, the Jordan River, baptism place of Jesus by John the Baptist, has become mostly sewage water now because the supply of water has dropped so severely. The Dead Sea has lost 26 meters since the 1960s and is now shrinking at a rate of 1 meter per year. The current situation is clearly unsustainable and new water sources must be found in order to ensure that Jordan can survive. It's ability to obtain water is tied to the actions of its neighbors. High levels of cooperation are needed in order to make sure that everybody is able to manage their resources efficiently.
It turns out that one of our speakers for this seminar, Dr. Dureid Mahasneh, was one of the first to coordinate with the Israelis before the treaty of 1994 (he told a humorous story about his first secret meeting being about the issue of birds from Jordan defacating in Israel). His account of the early stages of peace between these two countries was amazing because it showed two peoples, who are supposed to be enemies, coming together to solve a problem which is in the best interest of both countries.
I do not consider myself an environmental activist, but I do recognize when an environmental issue needs to be solved. The water crisis in the Middle East is one that affects the citizens of many countries and has a real, immediate impact on the daily lives of those living there. I fear that the situation will get much worse before it gets better but I am hopeful that it will force these countries to cooperate openly and honestly with eachother.