1.1 Billion people worldwide lack access to clean water.
1.8 million children die each year from waterborne diseases – one every 10 seconds.
5.3 billion people, two thirds of the world’s population, will suffer from water shortages by 2050.
The average American family uses 293 gallons of water per day; the average African family uses 5 gallons.
It is estimated that women in many developing countries walk for an average of about 6 kilometers each day to collect water (United Nations Population Fund, 2002).
Global consumption of water doubles every 20 years – more than twice the rate of human population growth.
In 1966, the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights established the right to water as a human right in Articles 11 and 12.
In 1999, the Dublin Conference on Water and the Environment established four principles that have subsequently guided world water policy: (1) fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource; (2) water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels; (3) women play a central role in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water; (4) water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.
In 2001, 800 delegates from 35 countries attended the Water for Peace and Nature Summit in Vancouver. They endorsed and signed the “Treaty Initiative to Share and Protect the Global Water Commons,” which says: “the intrinsic value of the Earth’s fresh water precedes its utility and commercial value,” and that “the Earth’s water belongs to the Earth and all species, and therefore must not be treated as a private commodity to be bought, sold, and traded for profit.”
While it is obviously true that we need water for basic survival, continuing attempts to categorize water as a “need,” rather than a “right” have been legal attempts to justify privatization – that is to say, companies claim that their mission is to fulfill this basis “need.”
What the Churches Can Do
Church leaders, lay and ordained, must speak directly to government representatives on all levels – local, regional, and national – about the right to safe, clean water and preserving that right as a basic public trust.
Use the water in your baptismal font both as a sacrament and as an educational tool linking spiritual teachings, environmental stewardship practices, and basic human rights.
Invite women in your congregation to share their experiences about the significance of water, its uses, and the issues surrounding it.
Visit nearby wells, streams, and rivers with your congregations and communities to examine and bless the water.
Implement water conservation strategies in your parish church or other places of worship.
Compiled by Canon Jeff Golliher, PhD, and used with thanks.