World churches group turns to the tap instead of bottles, joining 'Blue Community'

(Photo: Ivars Kupcis / WCC)Maude Barlow awards the Blue Community certificate to World Council of Churches' Olav Fykse Tveit on Oct. 25, 2016 at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.

Water has always been sacred and  the access to it and sanitation is a basic human right linked to the protection of creation, to which most faiths are signed up.

In its quest for climate and water justice, the World Council of Churches has announced it wants to cast out its bottled water and has joined the Blue Communities Project.

Maude Barlow, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, on 25 October awarded the WCC a "blue community certificate" and launched tap-based public water fountains at Geneva's Ecumenical Centre along with WCC general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit.

As chairperson of the Council of Canadians and chair of the Washington, DC-based Food and Water Watch she delivered a keynote address at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva calling for humanity to come together to protect the earth's water heritage and share it more equally.

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WATER AND SANITATION FOR ALL

Her call is in line with the sixth of the globally-supported 17 Sustainable Development Goals to transform the world and goal 6 is is to ensure access to water and sanitation for all.

In his welcome Tveit said, "We want to lead by example. We want to be a member of this community, with a program that is not only saying, but also doing it. Let us care for this day as a gift from God."

Barlow chose words from the August 2015 report of the WCC's Ecumenical Water Network which she said expressed her thoughts perfectly.

"Foremost among the most important issues of justice and peace are the critical issues of eco-justice, of our proper relationship as people of faith to God's creation and to each other, given our utter and complete dependence on ecological integrity of the earth.

"Protecting water and assuring just distribution of this life-giving resource is among the most critical of eco-justice issues," she asserted.

The United Nations says that 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people are still without.

By 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water.

At least 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using an improved drinking water source has increased from 76 per cent to 91 per cent.

GLOBAL WATER SCARCITY

Water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the global population and is projected to rise. Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds its recharge.

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using an improved drinking water source has increased from 76 per cent to 91 per cent.

Barlow said, "Believe it or not, we are facing a water crisis."

She warned the world is running out of accessible water, citing the UN report on World Water Day 2016 showing the demand for water will increase by 55 percent in the next 15 years and, by that time, water resources will only reach 60 percent of world demand.

It is not only Africa, India, the Middle East and Australia that are in crisis, but so are "water-rich" countries, such as Canada, the Blue Planet Project founder said.

She referred to China, where since 1990, more than half of the rivers have disappeared and Brazil which faces massive droughts in part due to the destruction of the Amazon.

"Lack of clean water kills more children than all the forms of violence, including war," said Barlow.

Tveit explained that the three basic criteria of becoming a blue community are: recognizing water as a human right; saying "no" to the sale of bottled water in places where tap water is safe to drink; and promoting publicly-financed, owned and operated drinking water and waste water treatment services.

He said that over the past decade, through the Ecumenical Water Network, the WCC has brought the voice of the faith communities into the global discourses on the human right to water and sanitation.

It does this working in close collaboration with the UN mechanisms related to the right to water. Further, the World Council of Churches has had very close cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church and other churches that are not members of the WCC.

Tveit said Pope Francis's encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si, is part of the contribution of faith communities and this says that climate change is real and mainly "a result of human activity."

The papal document says that solving climate change means protecting the planet and vulnerable people, and we must hear "both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor."

Francis says faith can guide us. "The entire material universe speaks of God's love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God."

Many civil society groups argue that the commoditization and commercializing water distributing is harming the poorest of humanity, by impeding their right of access to it.

Dr. Rajendra Singh, "the water man of India," said in a video call, "In the 21st century water commercialization is creating a disaster. This is a big threat for this century."

Singh's stance was supported by David Boys, deputy general secretary of Public Services International, who said PSI was been part of the WCC's Ecumenical Water Network since its inception.

"We have to recognize there are groups working against social justice... We have to make this a political topic then we can turn many more cities into blue communities," said Boys.

OSLO ACCORDS

Gidon Bromberg, an Israeli who is a co-director of EcoPeace/Friends of Earth Middle East, said, "We feel water is being held hostage by the political process particularly by the Oslo (peace) Accords."

He said that for the last 22 years all Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have been held hostage to the all-or-nothing approach, and that solving water issues would benefit all.

Jordanian Munqeth Mehyar, a co-director of EcoPeace, explained that the Jordan River is a shared eco-system bordering Jordan, Palestine and Israel and is linked to Syria which has major control of the key tributary to the river.

Nader Al-Khateeb, a Palestinian and a co-director of EcoPeace, said, "Nobody should be denied access to water. It is illegal and unfair. We need to fairly share resources to avoid future conflicts."

He said the Middle East is "blessed with sunshine" which can help the use of renewables for water desalination "instead of fighting over limited resources."

Copyright © 2016 Ecumenical News