Parting the Waters: Paolo Pellegrin

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Though its name evokes divine tranquility, the Jordan River has hardly inspired peace on Earth. Water has always been precious in this arid part of the world, and many conflicts have centered on the biblical stream and its tributaries and aquifers. Now a six-year drought and the needs of expanding populations have made it a fresh source of strife for Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians.

In the past five decades the river has lost more than 90 percent of its normal flow. Upstream, at the Sea of Galilee, waters are diverted to Israeli farms and cities. Elsewhere, dams built by Jordan and Syria claim a share of tributaries for agriculture. The result? Today’s lower Jordan is essentially a waste canal full of saline water, sewage, and runoff, while the falling water table of the Jordan-fed Dead Sea has created sinkholes in Israel and Jordan that render land unsafe for development.

Yet all these problems have also led to dialogue and resource sharing. Working with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and one another, some Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians are now seeking to improve water quality in their shared river, honor water-sharing commitments in past treaties, build a midstream "peace park," and develop alternative water sources. Will these drops of hope flow into a river of harmony?

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