ONE OF the most important New Testament sites is under threat from global warming and the worsening water shortage in the Holy Land and surrounding area.
The water level of the Sea of Galilee has fallen to a record low. The Israeli Water Authority says that for the past four winters rainfall has been well below average. This has left the lake more than 12 feet beneath its previous “red line”, and heading for a point where its sustainability is threatened.
“It is tragic that one of the holiest spots in Christianity is disappearing before our eyes,” said Joseph Haddad, a Christian tour guide from Nazareth. “Something urgent needs to be done if the Sea of Galilee is to be saved.”
The Sea of Galilee is at risk of suffering irrevocable damage owing to the presence of saline springs on the lake floor. As the quantity of fresh water diminishes, the proportion of salt water correspondingly increases. Stocks of the main freshwater fish caught in the lake are said to be lower than ever before.
The Sea of Galilee is one of the country’s main sources of water for domestic consumption and irrigation.
Gidon Bromberg, of Friends of the Earth in Israel, said the sharp decline in the lake’s water level was “a shocking situation, and we need to wake up. Israel is seen as a world leader in irrigation. We need to make ourselves a world leader in water conservation.”
Mr Bromberg said that mismanagement had worsened the problems caused by global warming. “We have continued to allocate relatively large quantities of fresh water to agriculture,” he said. “It makes neither economic nor ecological sense to export agricultural produce grown from fresh water.”
The shortage of water is an increasing worry for all the countries of the eastern Mediterranean. Friends of the Earth Middle East believes that the region “is the most water-stressed in the world”. The danger is that water shortages could increase social and political tension in the years ahead.
“Under climate change there will be no fresh-water resources available for agriculture,” said Munqeth Mehyar, director of Friends of the Earth in Amman. “We are calling on the Jordanian government to assist rural communities that currently are dependent on agriculture to diversify their income sources.”
He also urged Western governments to provide developing countries such as Jordan and Palestine with technical and financial assistance in adapting to climate change.