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Saving the 'World's Most Holy River'

Environmental activists in the Middle East are working to renew the Jordan. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Christians, Jews and Muslims all consider the Jordan River holy. Last week, Pope Benedict visited the place where John the Baptist is believed to have baptized Jesus in its waters. The leader of the world's Roman Catholics blessed the cornerstones of two churches to be built next to the river.

Jordan was the first stop on a Middle East trip in which he also visited Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli environmental organization Zalul has appealed to the pope and other world leaders to help save what it calls the "world's most holy river." The Jordan River is polluted and in danger of going dry. The World Monuments Fund placed the river on its two thousand eight watch list of one hundred most endangered sites.

The Jordan is more than three hundred kilometers long. It begins in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria. It ends at the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth, four hundred meters below the level of the Mediterranean Sea.

The southern part of the river forms the border between Jordan and Israel and includes part of the Palestinian territories.

Friends of the Earth Middle East is an organization of activists from Israel, Jordan and the territories. The group began as "EcoPeace" in nineteen ninety-four in Egypt.

Nader Al-Khateeb, the Palestinian director of the group, says the Jordan has lost freshwater sources. There has been little rain for five years. At the same time, populations along the banks of the river are growing. That increases demand for water.

Political tensions and conflict have made it difficult to deal with the problems. Members of Friends of the Earth Middle East say the Jordan could run dry unless something is done.

If the Jordan River is saved, they say, then the Dead Sea could also be brought back to life. The Dead Sea lost thirty-three percent of its surface area during the last half-century.

There have been several proposals to pump water into the Dead Sea from the Red Sea or the Mediterranean. But Friends of the Earth Middle East says that would cost too much and could damage the environment.

The group has simpler ideas -- like reducing water use at schools and other buildings in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. Other ideas including harvesting whatever rain does fall and sharing water. But most importantly, the activists hope Israel, Jordan and Syria can create an international commission to manage the Jordan River.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.