In the Middle East there is no resource more precious than water. For centuries the peoples of the Middle East have relied on the River Jordan for fresh drinking water, and for water to make the Jordan Valley and the land surrounding the Dead Sea one of the most fertile areas on earth. But now the River Jordan is dying and so is the Dead Sea -- because there is little fresh water flowing through the River Jordan.
Christians come from around the world to the Yardenit - one of two sites on the River Jordan in Israel where Jesus is believed to have been baptized by John the Baptist. What many of these Christians don't know is that this is the only safe place where baptisms can take place. Further south, at a site thought to be more historically accurate than Yardinet, the River Jordan is too polluted to be used for baptisms.
This is the Sea of Galilee, one of the world's largest fresh water lakes and the source of nearly all of Israel's drinking water. The Sea of Galilee feeds the River Jordan and the Dead Sea further south. For thousands of years the waters flowing out of the Sea of Galilee have nourished the River Jordan and have been the only source of fresh water for the Dead Sea. These clean waters enter the River Jordan at Yardenit where the baptisms take place but just a few kilometers south is where the river begins to die.
Beyond this earthen dam the River Jordan as we know it no longer exits.
Just out of eyesight, sewage from communities along the Sea of Galilee is dumped into one of the world's most sacred rivers. The environmental group, Friends of the Earth in the Middle East, says action must be taken to save the River Jordan before it is too late.
Gidon Bromberg is the group's director in Israel. "We have an earth dam here on the River Jordan. North of this point no fresh water flows down the River Jordan out of the sea of Galilee. From this point raw sewage and saline water diverted from the sea of Galilee is dumped into the River Jordan, a river holy to half of humanity has been turned into an open sewage canal."
Further south along the River Jordan here at the Gesher crossing on the Israel-Jordan border, bridges built by the Romans, the Ottoman Turks and British straddle the once mighty Jordan.
By the time the River Jordan reaches the Dead Sea it is a mere trickle, and as a result, the Dead Sea is dying.
In 1900 and 1917 a British expeditionary force traveled along this road, but they did it in boats as Mira Edelstein of Friends of the Earth in the Middle East explains, "Once the water was way up here they came by boats. On the Jordanian side, where the topography is different and more cliff oriented, you can see the straight drop. Here the gradiant is much less, so it goes a long ways. Now we are a few kilometer from the shore."
Over the last 50 years the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth and world's saltiest body of water, has dropped by 25 meters and shrunk by more than a third. Every year, the Dead Sea drops by more than one meter. These are results -- sinkholes
The shoreline of the Dead Sea is opening up and will soon destroy the road that runs along the Israeli side of the sea, according to Mira Edelstein. "Sinkholes began appearing about 10 years ago. Today there are more than a thousand. What is happening is that the receding waters of the Dead Sea are taking the salt water further into the sea. And in their place is coming fresh water from all the springs around the sea. It is very dangerous and they are opening up along the western shores. There is no development of infrastructure or tourism whatsoever."
As the sinkholes continue to devour the shoreline of the Dead Sea, experts are warning that with no fresh water flowing from the River Jordan, one of the most unique environments on the planet is in critical danger.