Weather Enables Pilgrims to Walk on Sea of Galilee

Christian pilgrims who come to the Holy Land for millennium 2000 celebrations will be able to walk on the Sea of Galilee.

Israel’s driest winter in the region’s modern history last year so reduced the level of the Sea of Galilee that visitors now can walk on dry land where fish could swim until recently. And, according to Dr. Moshe Inbar, Professor of Geography, the situation is going to get worse.

The level of the Kinneret, the modern name for the historical Sea, will drop below the red line of 213 meters below sea level, he predicts. In July, it was already more than 212 meters below sea level and dropping fast, with vegetation sprouting up as the shoreline recedes by tens of meters.

Sounding like a modern-day Jeremiah, but one concerned with the country’s ecology morals, Inbar has been warning against the apathy both officials and citizens have displayed towards the dry spell. It is the worst drought in this area in this century, he said.

Inbar also believes it will be the costliest natural disaster in the country’s history, resulting in perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. Not just agriculture, but other sectors, too, he says, will feel the loss, adding that the landscape and ecology will suffer.

The geographer points out that the northern area of Israel where the Kinneret is located had less rain than this past year only once. That was in 1932. But that year had a record rainfall in the south of the country, which did not happen this year.

He also cites the fact that it is the third dry spell to hit Israel in the past fifty years. Even if this coming winter is not as arid as last year, but still receives less than average rainfall, he cautions, the crisis will continue to grow worse. There will be little water added to fill the reservoirs.

In fact, the Jordan River has been feeding the Kinneret only half of its average annual supply. There are sections of the southern Jordan, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, where the flow is at a standstill, and one can cross the Jordan on foot, much as Joshua and the Israelites crossed it in their time—on dry land.

Inbar, whose specialty is geomorphology, faults those Israeli geographers who, as he sees it, explain away the severity of the water shortage. He himself is a proponent of desalination of seawater for a longer-term solution. But he also calls for immediate steps—even a 10% cut in consumption, he says, will save 50-60 million cubic meters of water a year, the output of a costly desalination plant.

Israelis consume on average 300 liters of water per person per day, whereas consumption in London and other large Western European cities averages 200 liters per day per person. A 10% cut would not affect an Israeli’s lifestyle, he says with a hint of sarcasm. This per capital consumption of water may not have grown in recent years, the Haifa University professor adds, but Israel’s population has increased.

Inbar charges that the State Water Commission has been helpless, farmers are not alarmed in the face of the coming shortage, and the general Israeli public continues to consume water as if there were no crisis.

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