Feeble, choked River Jordan struggles for salvation
By Douglas Hamilton
QASIR AL-YAHUD, West Bank (Reuters) - Christian pilgrims alarmed by claims that baptism in the River Jordan could make them sick are being urgently reassured by Israeli officials that the water poses no health risk.
Water quality tests published this week counter allegations by environmentalist group Friends of the Earth that the level of coliform bacteria from sewage in the river is too high for safe bathing, Eli Dror of Israel's Nature and Parks Authority said.
"There's absolutely no problem with the quality of the water. People can come and baptize here as much as they want," Dror told Reuters. "I can guarantee it."
Today's Lower Jordan is an undeniably meager and murky stream, cut off from its sweetwater source in the Sea of Galilee, sacrificed to the needs of towns and agribusiness in the desert valley and topped up with waste water and runoff.
A mile south of the point where it leaves the Galilee, among a quiet grove of trees at Alumot in Israel, the clear river is stopped by a crude earthen dam wide enough for cars to cross.
In the overgrown ditch on the other side, smelly brown water gushes from a buried pipe and a red-and-white sign warns: "Danger! Don't Enter or Drink the Water".
"We've known for a long time that these waters are not healthy," says Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth. "For most of the year they are four times more polluted than Israeli standards would permit.
"People who baptize in these waters presently, if they have a cut in their skin, could quickly develop a rash. If they swallow any of the water they could develop a stomach upsets and start vomiting," he told Reuters. Continued...