At the 22nd of February Iyad Njoum invited us, 5 water managers and 1 anthropologist from Holland, to visit the city and surrounding fields of Jericho, which is meant to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Iyad is a local field researcher of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) and guided us at the so called Neighbors Path of Jericho. One of the goals of these Neighbors’ Paths is raising public awareness of shared water and environmental concerns of the communities.
Jericho is situated in the Jordan Valley not far from the Dead Sea and the Jordan River in the West Bank area and controlled by Palestine Authorities. Although precipitation records reaches only 160 mm per year, due to the several springs in the surrounding mountains the whole village looks like a green oasis. These facts have made Jericho to an attractive site for human habitation for thousands of years. The nearby spring of Ein es-Sultan, the largest spring in the lower Jordan Valley, produces 1,000 gallons of water per minute (0.06 m3/s), irrigating about 10 km2 of agriculture land.
After visiting the interesting Hisham’s palace or Khirbat al-Mafjar in the village of Jericho we headed for Wadi Qelt. Due to big road patches it was a kind of adventure to get at the starting point of the trail, with our rented non-4×4 cars. But after reaching the donkeys, on top of the ridge, finally our descent into the Wadi started. The springs of Farah, Fawwar, and Qilt keep the valley of Wadi Qelt green. Down in the valley an irrigation channel transports fresh water from the springs to the village of Jericho. In history several aqueducts’ were built to transport water from the three springs. Iyad showed us an old abandoned water channel, ingenious pasted at the vertical sandstone colored rocks. In history the water was taken to various destinations (including the monastery and the Hasmonean and Herodian palaces at Tulul abu el-Alayiq). Right now the transported water is i.a. used as a source for drinking water.
After crossing the stone bridge at the bottom of the valley we reached the entrance of the St. George Monastery, built in the late 5th century. This monastery, constructed in and on the rocks of the narrow gorge, miles away from the inhabited world, revealed to us as a paradise on earth. At the balcony of the monastery the view into the valley is stunning. The monastery was destroyed by the Persians in 614 and rebuilt at the end of the 19th century. Creepy attractions are the skulls of the 14, by the Persians murdered monks which can be seen in the monastery chapel. We visited the quite interesting monastery, including the supposed cave of Elijah, and climbed back to the viewing point. Here it was possible to drunk a fresh glass of orange juice: excellent service!
Back in the village of Jericho, we visited the drinking water station, owned by the UN relief and works agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). A recent upgrade of the water treatment plant was funded and implemented by the Dutch Government. The drinking water produced at this site is used by the inhabitants of Aqbat Jaber, a nearby Refugee Camp where 5,550 people lives. Iyad explained the different steps in cleaning the water and about the storage capacity of water in the basins at the station. We asked Iyad about the year round availability of water. Spring discharges are always low during the summer and sometimes the channel completely dry up. In this case the Israeli water company Mekerot provides the drinking water. However, in summer water supply at the refugee camp can be completely down for days. This fact emphasizes the importance of proper water management and cross border cooperation at this place. By the way, the UNWRA on her website also indentifies the regular flooding of Aqbat Jaber as a serious problem.
After we thanked Iyad for his time we continued our trip in Israel. Thanks to the Foeme Neighbors Path and the enthusiastic explanations of Iyad about all the objects we visited, we have had a magnificent afternoon in the fields of Jericho. Besides of this our knowledge of the local water management of Jericho has been extended.
More info: foeme.org, jericho-city.org, unrwa.org