The lower portion of the Jordan River is so polluted that the World Monuments Fund (WMF) has designated it an Endangered Cultural Heritage Site. The WMF, the leading international body for the protection of monuments, placed the revered river on its watch list of 100 endangered sites in June.
About 90 percent of the river's natural water flow has been diverted by Israel, Jordan, and Syria for domestic and agricultural use, with sewage flowing in its place, according to Friends of the Earth Middle East, an environmental organization with offices in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.
The upper Jordan, which is formed from three tributaries originating in Lebanon, the Golan Heights, and Israel, is considered clean and flows into the Sea of Galilee. Israel's large baptism center is located in this region.
Few Christian tours of the region venture near the site where archaeologists believe Jesus was baptized, according to Mike Vanlaningham, Bible professor at Moody Bible Institute. That site lies on the eastern bank of the river in Jordan. The lower Jordan River, meandering some 125 miles from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, is highly polluted with sewage and agricultural runoff. Some pilgrims, particularly in Jordan, do not realize that the river is polluted and wade into the water.
Environmentalists for years have warned that the river is endangered, but governments have been slow to respond, said Mira Edelstein, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth Middle East.
"We're not proud of being on this list and hope to get off as soon as we can," Edelstein said. "Hopefully, this international pressure will bring our governments to act."
The Jordan and the Church of the Nativity are two sites in Israel ...