Jesus waded into the Jordan River to be baptized. But an environmental group is warning tourists and pilgrims not to follow in his footsteps.
Friends of the Earth Middle East called on local authorities this week to close a baptism site on the lower Jordan River until its polluted waters can be cleaned up.
“Sadly, the lower Jordan River has long suffered from severe mismanagement with the diversion of 98 percent of its fresh water by Israel, Syria and Jordan and the discharge of untreated sewage, agricultural run-off, saline water and fish pond effluent in its place,” the statement said, according to Discovery News.
The Israeli health ministry has not made a decision yet about whether to continue to allow people to enter the water at the site, located near the West Bank city of Jericho, added a report in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
Some believe the site is where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, although Jordan claims a rival location on the river’s east bank as the true site. The Vatican, for its part, has always downplayed such competition, noting that John baptized people throughout the river valley, not just in one place.
Last May, FoEME issued a study warning that the river has lost more than 50 percent of its biodiversity and could go dry by the end of 2011 if no action is taken. The study highlighted the need for regional authorities to develop plans to return fresh water to the river, which holds special significance for Christians, Jews and Muslims.