Lingering drought threatens Holy Land’s waters

JERUSALEM (AP) — As Israel heads into its fifth consecutive year of drought, the Sea of Galilee stands at a century low, much of the Jordan River is a fetid trickle and the Dead Sea is rapidly shrinking.

The biblical bodies of waters — pilgrimage sites for baptisms and beach parties alike — are crucial to the survival and stability of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. But more and more of the river the ancient Israelites crossed to enter the Holy Land is drying up — the result of climate change, growing populations and the increasing use of its water for agriculture.

The water basin is dotted with sacred sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians. Jesus, who was baptized in the Jordan, is said to have walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee and multiplied loaves and fishes on its shores. The medieval Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides is buried by the lakeshore, and companions of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad are buried on the eastern banks of the Jordan.

For visitors with high expectations for such iconic sites, the scenes can be shocking.

“If you blink when you cross the Allenby Bridge,” which links Jordan and the West Bank, “then you’ll miss seeing the Jordan River,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace, an organization of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists.

The Jordan River rises as the confluence of several tributaries at the northern end of the Great Rift, a 3,700-mile (6,000-kilometer) tear in the Earth’s crust. It flows south into the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret, then squiggles 220 miles (360 kilometers) to the lowest place on the planet, the Dead Sea.

The Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main water source, is less than 1 percent of the size of Lake Ontario, and years of drought have further lowered its surface.

Israeli meteorologists predicted in early December that the coming months would be drier than an average winter, prolonging an already troubling drought. As of the last reckoning, the water level in the…

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