World Monuments Fund declares site 'endangered' due to pollution.
By RON FRIEDMAN
Environmental activists are urging the government to rehabilitate the lower Jordan River after the cultural landscape was declared an "Endangered Cultural Heritage Site" by the leading international body for the protection of monuments.
According to Friends of Earth-Middle East (FoEME), a regional environmental organization of Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians, "90 percent of the Jordan River's natural water flow has been diverted by Israel, Jordan and Syria for domestic and agricultural use, with sewage flowing in its place. The region's current policies treat the river as a backyard dumping ground, resulting in its ecological devastation."
The lower Jordan River is arguably the most famous river in the world, with heritage values to half of humanity. Today, however, the beauty and cultural heritage values of the lower Jordan River have been severely compromised, FoEME said.
The World Monuments Fund declared it an endangered site at a press conference in New York last Wednesday.
Announced every two years, the World Monuments Fund's watch list acts as a call to action, drawing international public attention to threatened cultural heritage sites across the globe. The list of 100 declared sites shows that human activity has become the greatest threat to world cultural heritage.
"The Watch List of the World Monuments Fund is now sounding the alarm bell loud and clear to all those who care about the Jordan River," said Mira Edelstein, FoEME's Tel Aviv campaigner for the rehabilitation of the Jordan River. "There is a law in Israel that states that nature is a legitimate user of water. We should look at our water management and see what we can do for the Jordan River."
Edelstein suggests that instead of handing out subsidies to farmers who grow water intensive crops, the government should be conserving the water and encouraging the region's tourism potential.
Government water and sewage authority spokesperson Uri Schor said the government shared concerns for the southern Jordan River.
"However, we have to take into account the current water crisis in Israel and the region," he said. "We are on the heels of a two-year drought and we don't know what next year will be like. The whole world is drying up because of global warming and that, too, has to be taken into account."
Schor said that any solutions would have to be dealt with on the highest levels as part of a regional agreement between Israel and its neighbors.
With the inclusion of the Jordan River on the World Monuments Fund's 100 Most Endangered Sites, Edelstein said FoEME is hopeful that the international attention brought to bear will foster both the political will and cooperation needed to rehabilitate the river valley and remove it from the endangered list as soon as possible.
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