Posted by: rachelbr86 | October 29, 2010

River that was once Deep and Wide

Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Palestine and Israel. Many describe this trip as a chance to “walk where Jesus walked.” The land of present day Israel and Palestine is quite beautiful. The desert is marked with oases.  The natural scenic views are worth the trip alone. Water there is mark of refreshment, and life in the midst of arid desert.

Many of the church members on my trip were excited to see the Jordan River (where Jesus was baptized) and the source of the Dead Sea.  Swimming in the waters of Dead Sea, Jordan and Mediterranean Sea are quite an experience. In the Dead Sea, you could not sink if you wanted to, because salt continuously pushes you up.  The entire experience is like lying on a water bed (that dehydrates you).Our group thought of hymns and stories we had heard about this vastly deep and fiercely strong river. Maybe you know some of the ones we thought of: “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” or “Deep and Wide”.

Yet when we arrived, our group was enlightened to the fact that the Jordan might dry up.  Our guide told us in a matter of fact tone that the river at one point was deep and wide, but now in some places is only a trickle.  As we stood in the river water that baptized Jesus it was waves of realization that engulfed not the rushing stream.

For the last several years people have been speculating that the Jordan River could stop flowing. The iconic river of our hymns and Biblical stories could disappear. Today the river carries about 30 million cubic meters of water a year, compared to 1.3 billion cubic meters prior to the 1930s. This has been the result of dams being built by Israel, Syria and Jordan. These dams are an attempt to gain control of the water. The river provides the agriculture and domestic water supply for all three of these countries.

The arid climate and political tension have all added to the water scarcity of the region.  Residents of the region are aware of the water shortage issues. One the main features of people’s homes  are large water tanks on the roof.  These tanks are used to supplement water when there are shortages, or stoppages of regular service. One should note these tanks are absent in Israeli settlements. In the settlements there are water towers; which draw directly from aquifers under the surface of occupied Palestinian territory. So while Palestinians rely on water tanks and cisterns, Israeli settlers draw directly from increasingly endangered aquifers–and use way more water per capita on average then the Palestinians whose land they claim.  As water becomes  scarcer , and as the Jordan dries up who knows what will happen to the political tension in this region of the world.  Yet even with the contention and struggle no government in the region would want the Jordan to run dry.

All people can do is struggle to keep it going. As the Jordan struggles to survive so does the Dead Sea, and Wildlife in the area.  The dead sea has decreased by 3.3 feet each year for at least the last 15. The salt in the river has only increased with the decrease of water flow, and in the desert a salty oasis is no oasis at all.  The high level of sewage in the river gives less hope to those who seek to rehabilitate it.  Animals and plants in the region stand little chance against the decreased water flow, as well as the increased salt and sludge that has replaced it.  The challenge is quite daunting.

Hymns for me are one of the foundations of my understanding of faith. Through them I feel like I have had a picture of the Biblical narrative painted for me over the years.  If you are like me perhaps you continue to think of hymns about water and a river.  What will we do if we can only sing  about going down to the river to pray, but cannot actually go because it is dried up?  How will your pilgrimage to the Holy Land be changed if you could not venture to the banks of the Jordan to remember your Baptism?

The Jordan River is not the only river at risk, and water loss is not a problem only of people in other communities.  As I return to Washington DC I am reminded of the need to protect water sources near my home. Most notably we share a concern for the Chesapeake Watershed.   Water is a gift from God and is needed by all creatures to survive. Find out what you can do to protect water sources near you.

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