Jordan River Unsafe for Baptisms, Says Environmental Group

The Jordan River, where Jesus Christ is said to have been baptized roughly two-thousand years ago, is severely polluted, claims an environmental group that is warning against future baptismal ceremonies.

Untreated sewage, agricultural run-off, saline water and fish pond effluent has made Jordan River unsafe for humans, says Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East.

The reason, explains Bromberg, is that "ninety-eight percent of the Jordan's fresh waters [is] being diverted by Israel, Syria, and Jordan."

Friends of the Earth has called on regional authorities to halt baptism in the lower Jordan River until water quality standards for tourism activities are met.

The Israeli site, known as Qasar al-Yahud, draws more than two million Christians each year. Thousands of them visit the holy site to be baptized.

Friends of the Earth argues that high levels of coliform bacteria from sewage in the river have made it unsafe for bathing. But water tests released last week suggest otherwise, according to Eli Dror of Israel's Nature and Parks Authority.

"There's absolutely no problem with the quality of the water," Dror told Reuters. "People can come and baptize here as much as they want; I guarantee it."

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, meanwhile, said he was pleased that tourists would be able to continue visiting and using the site safely.

Israel's Tourism Ministry has invested millions of dollars recently to renovate the site, which is located in a closed military area near the West Bank city of Jericho.

It was in this river that two thousand years ago John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus Christ and his followers.