Water Justice and Faith

Water is life. This is the reflexion of Jaazeal Jakosalem, augustinian recollect

Water is an important element of life. Communities can never survive without water. The current situation impels us to act “to protect” our life-giving resource. “Too many people still lack access to safely managed water supplies and sanitation facilities. Water scarcity, flooding and lack of proper wastewater management also hinder social and economic development. Increasing water efficiency and improving water management are critical to balancing the competing and growing water demands from various sectors and users.”[1] We need to see the realities surrounding the situation of “Water” from both the global and local (or regional) perspectives vis-a-vis the inter-links of governmental systems.

Are we prepared to face this crisis? “Without clean, easily accessible water, families and communities are locked in poverty for generations.”[2] Expectations of damaging water scenario is identified as one of the severe impacts of climate change, the more we fail to address the environmental crisis, the more we will suffer from water crisis.

The impact of the global water crisis on health is distressing, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 2.2 million people every year will die due to lack of water and poor water quality. Practically, the water crisis if not sustainably address will be more damaging, by 2030, water scarcity will affect the livelihood of communities living in agricultural lands, and will directly affect and displace between 24 million and 700 million people.

Why Water Justice?

Where there is water crisis, there is always an injustice happening. The increased data of people suffering from the crisis. We are seeing the reality of the increasing ‘commercialization’ of water across the globe. Multi-national companies like Pepsico (Aquafina), Coca-cola (Dasani), Nestle, among others are taking advantage of ‘siphoning’ our water sources into their profit-driven enterprises. Global ‘bottled water’ market is expected to reach $279.65 (US) billion in 2020; by volume it is expected to reach 465.12 billion liters in 2020. Ironically, 884 million people do not have access to improved sources of drinking water, while 2.5 billion lack access to improved sanitation facilities.[3]  The utter imbalance of social situation versus water business is alarming, this calls for global action. “Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor.”[4]

Water Justice is a call for social justice. The water crisis is a rights-based issue, 3 in 10 people lack access to safely managed drinking water. The injustice is manifested on the impacts of the crisis in the lives of the poor, they can hardly access and pay more for water. This revolves around the issue on ownership and privatization of water sources, with governments conniving to have their piece of profits.

Because of the crisis, ‘water-pricing’ is introduced as an approach of water conservation. Clearly illustrating a ‘business-centered’ solution, from a purely economic perspective, not grounded on the realities where communities can hardly afford or where communities are buying Php 25.00 (half a US dollar) per gallon. This approach is a burden to the poor, and yet affordable to profit-driven enterprises, e.g., hotels, restaurants, farms, factories and industries. ‘Water-pricing’ contributed to the increased number of communities and families lacking access to clean water.

With the current crisis, can we achieve the universal and equitable access to safe water for all by 2030?

Faith Response to Water Crisis

Water is an important element in many beliefs, more than its ritual forms is the all-embracing acceptance that water is a life itself from the Creator. Faith communities, from the different systems, fully acknowledged the growing water crisis, its impacts on the people and of finding better solutions to address the crisis.

Actively critical and participative, both from within and grounded experience of faith groups on environmental issues, they revealed a common concern on this crisis. To present a better understanding of the water crisis in the Islam faith, Dr. Husna Ahmad pointed out: “This is why we all need to work to make our water safe to drink, to conserve it and to use it wisely. Mothers, like Hajjar (r.a.) can be at the forefront of this, leading the way to preserve water as a precious and blessed resource central to our faith and to the survival of our planet.”[5] The United Methodist Church boldly said in their Book of Resolutions: “When water availability and sanitation practices are compromised, community safety and security are threatened…” Affirming then, that “Water is an integral part of God’s radical expression of God’s love to all humanity. Water cannot be monopolized or privatized. It is to be shared like air, light, and earth. It is God’s elemental provision for the survival of all God’s children on this planet.”[6] Pope Francis, consistent on his Laudato Si’ direction, dedicated the 2018 World Day of Prayer for Creation on water, he said: “…Jesus, in the course of his mission, promised a water capable of quenching human thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:14). He prophesied, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink (Jn 7:37). To drink from Jesus means to encounter him personally as the Lord, drawing from his words the meaning of life. May the words he spoke from the cross – “I thirst” (Jn 19:28) – echo constantly in our hearts. The Lord continues to ask that his thirst be quenched; he thirsts for love. He asks us to give him to drink in all those who thirst in our own day, and to say to them, “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink” (Mt 25:35). To give to drink, in the global village, does not only entail personal gestures of charity, but also concrete choices and a constant commitment to ensure to all the primary good of water.”[7]

Pastors, religious men and women, and even courageous church members are at the forefront of water justice protests around the globe. The call for water justice is rooted on the issue of common access to clean water, non-privatization, non-commercialization, and climate justice connection. Water is God’s elemental provision for the survival of all God’s children in this planet.[8]

Faith communities examined the water crisis from the framework of see-judge-act, encouraging all to be part of the solution—from personal water conservation to social responsibility. Consistent faith-life reflection, allows every believer to appreciate one’s mission of stewardship to care for the earth, St. John Paul II said “in Christ man re-reads his original call to subdue the Earth, which is the continuation of God’s work of creation rather than the unbridled exploitation of creation…”[9]

Synergizing Solutions 

We celebrate the 2019 World Water Day with ironical realities. Water-related issues are happening around the globe. From excessive water withdrawals to dry spells—affecting human lives and livelihood. “Water for all by 2030. By definition, this means leaving no one behind. But today, billions of people are still living without safe water – their households, schools, workplaces, farms and factories struggling to survive and thrive.” [10]

What we can do: regulation mechanism must be in place (water RE-use facilities, Water for all Communities, integration of water development projects, rainwater reservoirs, etc.); improve better information lenses to facilitate water conservation and impose restrictions (identifying the sectors with heavy water withdrawals e.g., hotels, resorts, restaurants, bottled water producers or stations, agricultural farms, factories, etc.);and  doing-better to address the crisis (Research-based approach for data-framing of withdrawal, consumption and distribution, Establishing regulatory bodies for monitoring water withdrawals, Technology enhancement and transfer on water re-use, De-commercialization of Water).

People and communities are standing up against multinational companies siphoning the water table in their areas, defending their lands for the construction of dams in the name of development, and risking their lives not only for water but also for biodiversity and sustainable future—versus the systemic shortsightedness of our governments. All for water. Water crisis logically creates social imbalance.

Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

#AFriendlyWord

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[1] United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018, p. 7.

[2] https://www.worldvision.org/clean-water-news-stories/global-water-crisis-facts.

[3] The Right to Water, Factsheet No. 35

[4] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On the Care for our Common Home, #30.

[5] Dr. Husna Ahmad, Islam and Water: The Hajjar (r.a.) Story and Guide, 2015, p. 11

[6] United Methodist Church, Book of Resolutions: Protection of Water.

[7] Pope Francis, Message for the World Day of Prayer for Creation, 2018.

[8] The People of The United Methodist Church, Book of Resolutions: Protection of Water.

[9] St. John Paul II, Homily, June 12, 1999.

[10] https://www.worldwaterday.org

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