JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and Jordan signed a declaration of intent Thursday at the U.N. climate conference to preserve and protect their shared Jordan River — a holy waterway that is nearly drying up due to climate change, pollution and other threats.
The agreement, reached at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where world leaders are discussing how to mitigate the escalating impacts of a changing climate, marks an important, if initial, step in cooperation.
Water cooperation was a key element of the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries, but frosty relations in recent decades have complicated efforts to increase water supplies to the Jordan River.
The plan announced Thursday did not include details. He says Israel and Jordan have pledged to try to reduce river pollution by building sewage treatment plants and upgrading sewage systems to prevent riverside towns from dumping raw sewage into the waters, according to an Israeli government statement.
The two countries also aim to promote sustainable agriculture by controlling runoff from farms and reducing pesticide use, he added, without specifying how.
“Cleaning up pollutants and hazards, restoring water flow and strengthening natural ecosystems will help us prepare and adapt to the climate crisis,” said Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg.
Jordan’s state-run Petra news agency said the plan hopes 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 that promoted Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian cooperation on water issues, said the agreement to restore the Jordan River was “a critical climate adaptation measure that can help restore 50 percent of of biodiversity lost because of decades of pollution and diversion of fresh water.”
The waterway also separates Jordan to the east from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war and is sought by the Palestinians for their future independent state. The river is also home to traditional sites where Jesus is believed to have been baptized, which generate tourism revenue for both countries.
In recent years the once rapid waters of the Jordan River have gradually receded as population growth and climate change take their toll.
Jordan reported Thursday that the river’s flow has plummeted to 7 percent of what it once was. Because its waters feed into the Dead Sea, the saltwater lake is now disappearing—its levels falling three feet a year.