The River Jordan is a historic river in Southwest Asia. It flows within a geological depression that makes it the lowest river in world. The Jordan River arises from Mount Hermon between Syria and Lebanon and flows southward into northern Israel down into the Sea of Galilee. The southern arm of the river exits the Sea of Galilee, flowing between Israel and West Bank on the eastern bank and Jordan on the west. It finally empties into the Dead Sea, which at an elevation of 1,410 feet below sea level is the lowest land feature on earth. The River Jordan is more than 223 miles or 360 kilometers in length. However, it has such a meandering course that the actual distance between its source at Mount Hermon and the Dead Sea is less than 124 miles (200 kilometers). After 1948, the river became the boundary between Israel and Jordan. Since 1967, after Israeli forces occupied the West Bank, the river has served as the line of ceasefire until the borders of the Dead Sea.
The Jordan River Valley occupies the region where the tectonic plates of Asia and Africa converge. It occupies part of the extensive East African Rift System that begins in southwards from Turkey and extends into eastern Africa via the Red Sea. The landscape has tremendous cultural and historical importance. The first humans to leave Africa colonized the valley. The first farming developed on the plains. The river is at the heart of our collective spiritual experiences. Jews crossed the Jordan River to the Promised Land and Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist with the waters of this river. Its significance for Muslims lies in the fact that Islam recognizes all Prophets and Messengers who preceded Mohammad. Many of the Prophet's closest associates are buried on the Jordanian side of the River.
Today, the exact site where Jesus is thought to have been baptized is a protected area and a pilgrimage destination and where baptisms take place. The Jordan River Valley contains important roads and bridges that connect the various districts therein. There are two border crossings between Israel, Palestinian territories and Jordan across the river over bridges. For centuries, parts of the river have been the main source of irrigation for the various communities living long the shores. The Jordan River is Israel’s second-largest water resource. Since 1964, Israel’s National Water Carrier delivers water from the Sea of Galilee to the coastal plains. Jordan draws 50,000,000 cubic meters of water annually as per a treaty with Israel. Conflict over the river waters was a contributory factor in the Six-Day War of the 1960s when Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan attempted to divert some of the river’s headwaters.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The area along and beyond the banks of the Jordan River is dominated by wildlife suited to the arid and semi-arid conditions of this portion of the Levant. The weather is the wettest from December through February, and significantly drier for much of the year. Ibexes, oryxes, soft-shell turtles and other reptiles, toads and frogs, and such birds as grebes and loons are common. The area is well known for its array of flowers, and trees such as olive and pine are found both in strong stands of woodlands in some places and more dispersed and scattered in others..
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Within the last 50 years, the countries that share the water of the Jordan River and dammed and diverted more than 96% of the historic flow of the river. The remaining water is saline and polluted with sewage and agricultural waste. At places, the river is little more than a stagnant canal. Palestinian communities have been the hardest hit; refused access to the river and denied a fair share of the underground water, they face perennial drought. The Jordan River Valley has historically connected the ecosystems of Asia and Africa. It used to be haven for many species of plants and animals. But as the river dried, the Valley has suffered severe ecological setbacks, and half of its biodiversity has been lost. Always a shallow body of water, the comparative trickle of the river that now flows into Dead Sea is making the surface sink by around one meter each year.