London, May 11 (ANI): A United Nations report has described the biblical River Jordan, the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ, as a "sewage pipe" made filthy by pollution from farming in Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.
According to a report in the Times, the river is now such a polluted, denuded shadow of its former self that bathing is prohibited in its sluggish, brown waters.
The UN report has said that the river has been made filthy by poorly managed sewage disposal from Palestinian cities in the West Bank and by waste water from Jordan and Syria.
Once a surging river with white water rapids, it is now a barely moving stream for much of its lower course, its volume slashed in the past 40 years from 1.43 billion cubic meters a year to a mere 100 million cubic meters.
The main culprits are the intensive agriculture in Israeli farms in the Jordan Valley, captured in the 1967 war, where bananas, avocados, herbs and exotic fruits are grown for export.
The baptism site itself is located in the centre of a vast minefield on the border controlled on the western side by Israeli forces and on the other by the Jordanian Army.
On the approach through the desert from the Israeli controlled side, two abandoned churches stand surrounded by rusted barbed wire bearing triangular signs in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian, warning "Danger, mines".
Israeli environmentalists have urged the Pope, who visited the site on the Jordanian side, to push for a clean-up of the river, where devout Christian pilgrims still often immerse themselves despite the health hazards.
"The world's most holy river is under threat," the Zalul Environmental Association said in an open letter to the Pope.
"Water from the once-proud Jordan River is being diverted for domestic and agricultural use, leaving the lower part of the river a shrivelled stream with little to no fresh water and filled with sewage," it added.
Environmentalists say part of the problem, aside from the huge demand for water in the arid region, is a lack of co-operation between the various partners.
Israel and Syria are still officially at war, and the Jewish state's relations with Jordan are often strained, despite a peace treaty.
The volume of water is now so low as it flows from the Sea of Galilee that there are fears that the Dead Sea, which it feeds into, could one day vanish. (ANI)