ASIA - Churches committed to protecting the right to drinking water and its link with human dignity

Wednesday, 7 April 2021 human rights   human dignity   civil society  

Chiang Mai (Agenzia Fides) - The Christian Churches in Asia, together with other religious organizations and civil society movements, play an important role in raising awareness of the global water crisis. As stated in the webinar "Decreased Access to Safe Water in Asia: Challenges to Human Security" recently organized by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), an interfaith network based in Thailand, Christian faithful in Asia, of all denominations, are aware of the need to defend the right to water for all. The panel of experts underlined the need for "genuine reform and democratic governance on the issue of water conservation and pollution", said Mathews George Chunakara, Secretary General of the CCA.
In Asia, water-related problems have become increasingly acute with worrying implications. The threats of climate change, rampant urbanisation, and unplanned development have placed great stress upon the regions water resources. In recent times, water scarcity has triggered reduced food production, supply chain blockages, loss of land and livelihoods, large-scale migrations, and even exacerbated economic and geopolitical tensions.
Chunakara said: "Water is the essence of life and safe water is indispensable to sustain life and health. The right to water cannot be interpreted in an abstract perspective but must be grounded in the framework of human security. Human security fundamentally is freedom from fear and freedom from want; and its interrelatedness with right to water is significant and obvious".
"The right of access to water, which entails sufficient, safe, accessible, affordable water for personal and domestic use, is a matter of increasing concern in the Asia region today", he added.
Evariste Kouassi-Komlan, Regional Advisor of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) at the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, spoke of the specific challenges of rapid growth, urbanisation, and climate change in Asia and its impact on water, sanitation, and hygiene. Mr Kouassi-Komlan specifically mentioned the urban-rural gap in water access and explained, "Waste water management is a bottleneck in the sustainable development of the region, and this has huge impacts in terms of health. It is also a major challenge to ensuring higher quantity and quality of water in rural areas, as there are scant waste water systems available in remote areas". The UNICEF officer further share four specific perspectives to address water scarcity in the region. This included water governance as a revolutionary and interregional management system, innovation and financing to improve the efficiency of water use and reusability of water, capacity-building of the water sector, and increased data information availability and resource sharing.
Dr Ansye Sopacua, Technical Adviser of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for UNDP Indonesia, highlighted the specific issues hindering access to safe, sufficient, and affordable water in Asia. She broke down the right to water in three components and shared the regional challenges in attaining each. These three were that the individual need of water averaged 50–100 litres per day, that water sources needed to be within 1000 metres of one’s residence, and that the expenditure of a household on water should not be more than three percent of income. Lack of reliable infrastructure, lack of funding and finance, and issues of mismanagement contributed to decreased access to safe water. At times, water was available but either not safe (due to chemical run-offs or high salinity) or not affordable (especially as the poor had to purchase water every day given limited access to municipality water systems and associated subsidies).
Dr Kongmeng Ly, Water Quality Officer from the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental agency in the Mekong sub-region of South East Asia, provided examples of trans-boundary cooperation over shared water resources. He said that the member countries of the lower Mekong basin jointly established many procedures on the use of water and the protection and conservation of the river’s resources, which included joint cooperation in the management and monitoring of water quality. Although the onus was on states to enforce the protocols, the MRC provided monthly assessments of water quality and quantity, which helped in assessing development projects across the basin.
David Das, Asia representative to the International Reference Group of the Ecumenical Water Network hosted by the World Council of Churches, emphasized: "Water has now become a complex trading commodity like gold and oil. Churches must prioritise urgent, relevant, and affordable programmes and be in partnership with various groups for a multi-pronged solution to the water crisis. It is up to faith groups to answer several pressing questions regarding the sustainability of our current lifestyles for the future".
The CCA has been educating, encouraging, and empowering its constituencies to work for the wellbeing and prosperity of all God’s creation in this world and to be engaged in a prophetic mission, loudly and boldly advocating for right to water. The CCA hopes that the deliberations of the webinar on World Water Day will continue to inform the prophetic witness of Asian churches in the ongoing struggle for equality and justice.
The panellists collectively proposed suggestions for actions of churches on the issue of equitable water access. This included speaking about decreased access to water from the pulpit, developing specific "Sunday School modules and curriculum on water and the care of creation", releasing publications on biblical-theological perspectives on the importance of water conservation. Given that churches had large grassroots networks, such networks could be leveraged to spread information on the importance of water and its links to human dignity. (SD-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 7/4/2021)