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Is the Dead Sea dying?

(CNN)I was coming home from war coverage in Iraq, flying through Amman, Jordan when my buddy/producer had an idea.

“Let’s go to Petra,” he said. “Maybe take a float in the Dead Sea.”

After a day pretending to be Indiana Jones in the ancient ruins, we reached the lowest beach in the world at sunset and I’ll never forget my first dip in the most bizarre swimming hole I’ve ever seen.

I still remember wading into warm — almost hot – -viscous liquid that stings the eyes, lips and (ahem) nether regions while making the body float like a bobber. Amazing.

Years later, when I read that this ancient, salty center of the Holy Land was disappearing at an alarming rate and enormous sink holes were opening and swallowing the footprints of prophets and saints, I just had to go there.

What I found surprised me more than any other stop on “The Wonder List.”

The main reason the Dead Sea is evaporating is because the River Jordan is nearly dead.

This is the river where Christians believe John baptized Jesus. Muslims believe the banks of the Jordan hold the remains of friends of Mohammed. Yet a river that is holy to half of humanity has been damned and diverted to a trickle, the weeping willows that once shaded the banks are endangered and wildlife is scarce.

But hardly anyone takes notice because walking down to the banks of the Jordan means crossing a militarized zone, choked with barbed wire and littered with land mines.

It seems like another bit of evidence for those inclined to believe that the next World War will be fought over water.

But the people I met described a much different reality.


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