Mideast environmentalists pledge to work together

Jordanians, Israeli and Palestinians urge to resolve region's water problem.

dead sea sign 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dead sea sign 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian environmentalists pledged Tuesday to work together to overcome their countries' differences and try to resolve the region's controversial water problem. The pledge came during a conference of Nobel laureates that Jordan's King Abdullah II sponsored in the ancient Nabatean city of Petra. Earlier, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Abdullah at the conference and the two later held political talks in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba. Abdullah addressed the Nobel Laureates gathering and urged inter-border cooperation in solving the Mideast's common problems, including economic development, the environment and health. Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the Friends of the Earth-Middle East, said that his grassroots organization which works in 70 countries worldwide to protect the environment, has for years tried to overcome Middle East differences for the sake of the environment. "If we don't start working together to protect our common water resources from pollution or start turning those water resources into opportunities for employment and sustainable welfare, then we are going to continue seeing the disaster we are presently witnessing," Bromberg warned. With his Palestinian and Jordanian counterparts in the organization, Bromberg said the group has been lobbying governments on common environmental concerns. Palestinian Friends of the Earth director Nader al-Khatib said both he and his Israeli colleague are educating their young people in schools how to conserve water, recycle the precious commodity and protect it. "This environment knows no boundaries, unless we work together, we can't save it," al-Khatib said. The group's top concern has been the diminishing waters of the 200-mile, 320-km long Jordan River, known as the biblical baptismal site of Jesus Christ. It said that instead of fresh water flowing down the river, it now has very little water and most of it is polluted. Some environmentalists blame the decreasing waters on the exploitation of fresh water from the Sea of Galilee and Syria's Yarmouk River further north. Farmers in Jordan's Ghor Valley, adjacent to the river are also believed to be drawing down the river's reserves. Environmentalists fear more economic growth and growing populations will also increase the need of water from the Sea of Galilee and curtail the amount flowing from it into the Jordan River and further downstream, impacting the future of the Dead Sea as well. "We can turn that around," said Bromberg. "But it requires the political leadership that requires us all to take that change that's required to cooperate together."