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JESAM Ecology Water Week 2015: Access to safe drinking water for all

15 September 2015
JASCNET provided a big tank for the High Gate Learning Centre, a school in an informal urban settlement in Nairobi, Kenya that buys water for their cleaning and cooking needs in the feeding program.  The school can now use the big tank for harvesting rainwater and storing water for their needs. Photo credit: JASCNET

JASCNET provided a big tank for the High Gate Learning Centre, a school in an informal urban settlement in Nairobi, Kenya that buys water for their cleaning and cooking needs in the feeding program. The school can now use the big tank for harvesting rainwater and storing water for their needs. Photo credit: JASCNET

Jesuit Africa Social Centers Network

The Jesuit Africa Social Centers Network (JASCNET) and the Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN)-Ecology organized the JESAM Water Week from 31 August to 4 September 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya with the theme Access to safe drinking water for all, a work focus of GIAN-Ecology.

Participants listened to various experts from UN Habitat, UNEP, National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), and GIAN-Ecology leaders and shared their experiences from various African countries on the challenges faced by many African countries in providing clean drinking water to the population.

In their talks on Laudato si’, the delegates from GIAN-Ecology said that this encyclical is our road map and inspiration. It transmits a message of hope to the world and a challenge for the church as it calls her for ecological conservation. It brings out the bridge between scientific evidence and the way of life in faith. Indeed, an economy that does not consider ecology promotes the gap between the poor and the rich and the destruction of the earth.

A technocratic-led world can only marginalise those most in need. In this way, the Holy Father calls on the world to go deeper in addressing the question of climate change. How do we get people to be part of this call? The JESAM Ecology Working Group should be a community of inspiration and of practice.

“To deny access to safe drinking water is to deny the right to life.” In line with the words of Pope Francis, the main objectives of the water week were to raise awareness on the issues concerning access to clean water in Africa and to reinforce the network between various environmental actors of the Society of Jesus in Africa in order to develop common actions towards the challenges surrounding clean water supply and climate change in Africa.

Addressing the challenge of access to clean water in Africa, the representative from UN Habitat pointed out that urbanisation has reached more than 50% in Africa though the supply of basic human needs such as water and sanitation in the cities has fallen seriously. In this regard, most countries in Africa are in very bad shape.

Mr. Issak Elmi and Ms. Grace Njeri Wangai from NEMA Kenya discussed the impact of climate change in Africa, sharing the situation of water availability, extreme weather, food security, human health, sea level rise, biodiversity, socio-economic effects, effect on wildlife, and climate change laws. With data, the speakers showed the way climate change in Africa affects everything from the global economy to food security to our physical safety. For example, Africa is home to 17% of the world’s forests, yet deforestation on the continent is estimated to be four times the global average – and the pace is accelerating. The challenge is in getting individuals, businesses, countries, and communities to change their behaviour and adopt new habits.

Sharing good practices

The vegetable gardening and reforestation processes in Malawi (Jesuit Centre for Ecology or JCED), at the Institut supérieur agrovétérinaire de Kinshasa or ISAV (Agro-veterinary Institute of Kinshasa) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in Fe y Alegria in Chad, water supply in urban slums in Nairobi, Kenya by the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA), and solar as an alternative energy source as developed at the Centre d’Etudes et de Formation pour le Développement (CEFOD) are good practices that could be emulated.

All agreed that education stands out as a very efficient means of making a difference in the cultural patterns of access to clean water and water wastage in Africa. Thus, curricula that are more contextual and that pay attention to climate change are recommended rather than merely copying and pasting educational systems that are either insensitive or only multiply the crises.

Access to clean drinking water

Participants agreed to initiate research in various countries to assess the quality of water that people are drinking and develop reports on the same, to be used for advocacy. They also decided to provide water to communities with water difficulties, to support those who are taking initiatives such as community initiatives, rainwater harvesting projects, water treatment, among others, and replicate best practices to manage water, and to economically support water availability.

In an effort to respond to the impacts of climate change, they decided to support the ongoing initiative around the Congo Basin Forest, bringing in other efforts that protect forests in Africa, and to invest in research and get involved in activities that develop the use of renewable energy in cooking in Africa. Finally, they intend to organise a planting-of-trees day in provinces, and share the follow-up on the climate change talks in Paris this December.

For more information, please get in touch with Rigobert Minani, SJ, JESAM Social Apostolate Coordinator and JASCNET Director through his email: rigomin(at)gmail.com.

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