Efforts are underway to rehabilitate Jerusalem's Kidron Valley, one of the most polluted valleys in either Israel or the Palestinian Authority. The sewage running through the valley, which begins in East Jerusalem and winds its way eastward down to the Dead Sea, has severely damaged the ecology of the area and threatens the health of local residents.
Last week a meeting to promote solutions to the problem was held near the town of Ubeidiya in the Palestinian Authority, east of Jerusalem. The meeting was initiated by the Ubeidiya municipality, Israel's Dead Sea Drainage Authority and a steering committee comprising a number of Israeli agencies and ministries. The committee, headed by environmental law expert Prof. Reuven Laster, has recently put together a comprehensive program to rehabilitate the valley.
Last week's meeting, held in a tent that had been symbolically placed over the sewage-soaked Kidron streambed, was attended by representatives of Israel's Water Authority and Palestinian Authority Water Minister, Dr. Shaddad Attili.
Jerusalem has in recent years treated sewage from its western neighborhoods at a treatment plant west of the city. However sewage from East Jerusalem has been flowing untreated through the Kidron for years. The Jerusalem sewage is augmented by sewage from Palestinian communities, bringing a total of more than 10 million cubic meters - making the Kidron the most polluted streambed in either Israel or the PA. There are also currently 900 known refuse dumps in the valley.
"I have no other way to describe the life of the people living in these places except as life without human dignity and with no respect for nature," Laster said.
The sewage that flows through the Kidron is currently impounded by the Jordan Valley Water Association before it reaches the Dead Sea, and after basic purification is used to irrigate fields in settlements in that area.
But that does not prevent the pollution of the upstream portion of the valley. Israel and the PA have for years been unable to agree on where sewage treatment facilities should be built, and Israel had begun studying the possibility of pumping it to treatment plants west of the capital - an expensive and complicated engineering solution. However, the steering committee has developed a master plan based on Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.
"The plan is to build the treatment plant in Ubeidiya, which can be used by the Palestinians for agricultural irrigation," the director of the Dead Sea Drainage Authority, Gery Amel, said, adding that some of the sewage would continue to flow eastward and be treated downstream.
The steering committee also wants to encourage the Jerusalem municipality and East Jerusalem residents to collect refuse more efficiently.
But the plan is not immune to political tensions. "We will not agree for the sewage to be channeled to another treatment plant and be used to irrigate [agriculture in] settlements," Attili said last week.
Dov Kuznetsov, head of the Jordan Valley Water Association, said he would agree to any division of the sewage the Water Authority agreed to, but that he thought the Palestinian Authority would not be able to afford the operational costs of the sewage treatment plant, or find enough agricultural areas to utilize the sewage.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said that while it had been in on the master plan developed by the steering committee, "we feel the solution chosen cannot be implemented." Building a sewage pipeline in the Kidron would damage the cliffs, the ministry said, suggesting instead channeling most of the sewage to treatment plants west of Jerusalem, leaving 20 percent to be treated by a Palestinian plant.