Waters for Life Water as a human right moving up on the churchesí agenda
by Martin Robra

Water is an essential condition of life. The right to water has to be enshrined in international and national law as a human right. This conviction is shared by more and more churches and church related organizations around the globe. Just a couple of weeks ago the National Council of Churches in Brazil together with the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops and the Federation of Swiss Churches have affirmed the human right to water in a joint statement. The synod of Protestant churches in Germany has raised concerns regarding the commodification of resources essential to life, including water. These are just two examples of a growing number of churches raising their voice.

At the same time, the momentum is increasing for networking among churches, church related development agencies and ecumenical organizations. The German Brot fuer die Welt, Church World Service, Kairos Canada, Norwegian Church Aid and the World Council of Churches co-sponsored a side-event by the CSD 13 Ecumenical Team on the strength of community based initiatives as a real alternative to the failed privatization agenda, which has not and will not work for the vast majority of people.

Churches affirm the conviction of Indigenous Peoples that water is sacred and has an important spiritual and cultural dimension to it. On the basis of our spiritual traditions, it is inconceivable to think of a private property right on water resources or reducing it to a tradable commodity. Public democratic control of all water issues must be secured with accountability to those immediately concerned. Based on their experience with poor communities in all continents, church related development agencies emphasize the importance of community-based initiatives. Peoples’ participation, especially that of women, youth and Indigenous Peoples is critical for effective solutions to water problems. The Ecumenical Team shared encouraging examples during its side event.

Church related development agencies with their combined annual budgets of more than 1 Billion US$ contribute in a significant way to social and sustainable development. The human right to water will move further up on the churches’ agenda in the near future. It will be an issue discussed at the forthcoming General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, gathering delegates of 348 member churches representing 500 Million members.