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Wastewater management at the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar

31 August 2018
Water distribution in a school in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo credit: P Walpole)

Water distribution in a school in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo credit: P Walpole)

In the African region, the gap between water availability and water demand is growing fast, especially in cities where urban population is expected to nearly quadruple by 2037, suggesting a probable massive increase in wastewater production from African cities. Current water management systems cannot keep up with the growing demand and the estimate is that half of the urban infrastructure that will make up African cities by 2035 has yet to be built. This scenario poses several challenges and offers opportunities to break away from past (inadequate) water management approaches and to shift to innovative water management solutions, such as integrated urban water management which includes the use of treated wastewater to help meet increasing water demand. (Source: UN World Water Development Report 2017)

Ecojesuit shares this interview of Fr Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator SJ, President of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) and who is leading a new Wastewater Management Project supported by Jesuit Missions UK.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to join the Society of Jesus?

I am a Jesuit and I’ve been one for many years. I was inspired to join the Society of Jesus because of the example of Jesuits. I met Jesuits who were literally men for others. They served and they were selfless in their service of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. That was all I needed to join the Jesuits, and since then I have never looked back. As we say in Nigeria, where I come from, I became a Jesuit by the grace of God.

Why is the Water Waste Management Project, as part of the new JCAM administrative building, in Kenya so important to you?

Like many parts of Africa, water is increasingly seen and valued as the precious resource it is. We say “water has no enemy.” In a city like Nairobi, we used to receive water from the city on only two days a week. That taught us to be careful and to value water as a precious resource.

Now, through the generosity of benefactors we are lucky enough to have our own borehole supply. But that is water which we do not simply want to use once and throw away forever. So, our wastewater can be treated and used again in flushing systems and in small irrigation projects which help us towards self-sufficiency.

I lived for some time in London and there, the joke was that the water which came from the taps had been used six or seven times over as it made its way down the length of the River Thames! In a small way we are doing the same thing here. In the end it’s about developing and modeling an attitude of care and protection for water and all the wonderful natural resources that God has gifted human beings and creation with.

What are your motivations behind the project?

The 21st century will have to become known fairly soon as the century in which people changed their minds about the environment and took seriously the Gospel given mandate to be stewards of God’s creation. If that does not happen, the 22nd century will be profoundly different and more difficult, and competition for the planet’s resources is likely to bring with it some quite unwelcome experiences.

In centuries past, humankind has changed its mind on very major social issues such as the abolition of slavery or the extension of the franchise to all women and men in democratic countries; it needs to do so again in a radical way as it contemplates an equal access to and distribution of the earth’s resources.

Pope Francis has given us a great lead in this direction, underpinned as it is by the profound conviction that justice requires that all participate in development and share in its benefits and that all have a care for the world they inhabit, in their own age and for the ages to come.

How can this project be used as an example for future building plans?

The situation of the Society of Jesus in Africa and Madagascar is quite different for that in the northern hemisphere. Here our numbers are still rising, and our formation centres are flourishing. With that sort of human resource on hand, Provinces and Regions are expanding their service of God’s people and with that growth comes a fairly constant building schedule from parishes to schools, spirituality centres to social and outreach centres.

The new JCAM build absolutely wants to model some of the possibilities for conservation of resources and the use of alternative technologies. Provincial or Regional Superiors, Treasurers, Development Directors, Novice Directors and many others will visit JCAM in the course of their work and I want them to see how water harvesting can work, to understand how solar power can provide the energy we need, and ultimately how it is possible to make environmental concern a real part of our daily life and mission.

The circumstances of our times offer us an opportunity to do things differently, like making decisions and designing projects that are ecologically responsible. As Jesuits, we owe it to posterity to make good use of such opportunities.

In your current role, what is your vision for the Jesuit Provinces in Africa and their work in relation to Care of Creation?

There is a building in London, close to the Jesuit offices in Mayfair, which has etched into its side a maxim from a French revolutionary – “Too many laws; too few examples.” Much more is accomplished in life when we model the way forward showing how change can be accomplished.

As I said, it is my own hope that JCAM can point the Provinces and Regions of Africa and Madagascar to greater appropriation of new possibilities in design and realisation. I must add that already in some part of this continent there are innovative demonstrations of integral ecology at work whether in farming, power capture, water use, animal husbandry, waste management and forestation.  We just need more of all of that, and not just on this continent.

How have you been influenced by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’?

Very much so as I hope the above illustrates. I have read and studied the document, as well as taught aspects of in a various contexts. It remains a rich source of inspiration.

But in particular I am struck by the pope’s emphasis on the inescapable responsibility that each person has in the duty of caring for our common home. Francis talks about little gestures of care and love. If we could all just do our part, that would add up to much by way of generating positive impact on the state of our environment. Here at JCAM, we are striving to do our part.

How have you witnessed the change in climate and increased need to care for creation?

Both as Provincial of Eastern Africa and now as President of JCAM, I have indeed witnessed the seemingly increased extremes of climate, the irregularity and unreliability of rains, and most importantly the consequences of these things when plantings fail and crops wither.

We have witnessed with increasing frequency in this region extreme weather patterns and conditions, from the worst of flooding to the worst of drought. A direct consequence of the hardships which follow such things are to be found in the movement of peoples across borders and even across continents with all the sufferings that accompany them.

There is no getting away from the reality, clearer now than ever before, that what happens in one part of our world, in terms of weather, economics and disease, has a direct impact on almost every other part of creation.

That there are women and men who are prepared to work to care for those most in need always gives me confidence; that there are not enough of them always gives me anxiety. We are one people of one God and we are all sisters and brothers in that God-created order.

Is there a message that you would like to share encouraging people to take action for care of creation?

My message is that when it comes to exercising care and protection for our common home we can all do something. Everybody needs to make what Pope Francis calls “a selfless ecological commitment” which consists of “little daily actions” and “simple daily gestures” capable of transforming the cycle of mindless exploitation into a duty of care and protection for creation. We can all do something.

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2 Responses to Wastewater management at the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar

  1. William J. Scanlon, SJ on 25 September 2018 at 3:31 am

    When we first arrived in Nigeria in 1980, I suddenly became aware of how essential water was. We would get water from the city only in the night. I can remember taking a shower at 3:00AM because that was the only time water was available. Fortunately we had the resources to built a water tower holing 2,000 gallons which would be filled every night, so we eventually had water during the day. But I remember the villages where they did not have water and the women had to go to the river every day to get enough for cooking and bathing.God bless you for your efforts to make water more available.

  2. Brian MacGarry on 22 September 2018 at 8:28 pm

    An interesting account of a significant initiative.
    With some experience in this field, I would be interested in more details, to help apply the principles here.
    We are well aware of the urgency of securing supplies of clean water, being in the middle of a cholera outbreak.

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