Water is a critical resource that is an integral part of life and human development. Care for water cuts across culture and spirituality, climate, food and nutrition security, biodiversity, land use, and health, among others. However, the rampant impacts of the ecological crisis continue to threaten the existence of water and the integrity of all life.
Representatives from UN member states and stakeholders gathered in New York City in the US for the UN 2023 Water Conference that serves as a midterm review of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028 (Water Action Decade 2018-2028) and to scale up commitments to the Water Action Agenda.
“The UN 2023 Water Conference in March must result in a bold Water Action Agenda that gives our world’s lifeblood the commitment it deserves,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Report 2022 for SDG6 states that over two billion people worldwide do not have access to drinking water services, 3.6 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services, and 2.3 billion lacked basic hygiene services. With only 0.5% of the Earth’s waters useable for human consumption, water scarcity continues to be exacerbated by climate-induced disasters.
In its 2021 State of Climate Services report, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned that “more than 2 billion people are living in countries under water stress and 3.6 billion people face inadequate access to water at least one month per year. Water-related hazards increased in frequency for the past 20 years. Since 2000, flood-related disasters increased by 134%, and the number and duration of droughts also increased by 29%.” The WMO identified Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) as “vital to achieving long-term social, economic and environmental well-being. But although most countries have advanced their level of IWRM implementation, 107 countries remain off track to hit the goal of sustainably managing their water resources by 2030 (UN SDG 6).”
At the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly. In their latest update, ENSO: Recent Evolution, Current Status and Predictions, El Niño is projected to return this year with a 60% probability hitting in late July that will lead to unprecedented heatwaves and droughts, aggravating water insecurity concerns.
Serious commitments to care for and defend water are critical, and faith groups are among the voices urgently calling for action. In an official side event to the 2023 UN Water Conference, several interfaith groups held the Water is Life: Angel of the Waters Ceremony to “celebrate the enduring significance of the tangible and intangible value of water, as well as the stewardship challenges of water and water related heritage around the world.”
A delegation of representatives from the social and ecology action centers of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) and the Jesuit Conference of the United States and Canada (JCCUS) are taking part in the Conference. The Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network Africa (JENA) highlights the important role of integrated and source-to-sea water management for climate action on agriculture and food security, drawing from stories in the grassroots.
The UN Environment Programme Faith for Earth Initiative is also intensifying the messages of the Water Justice Manifesto signed by the People’s Water Forum that lobbies for the concerns of those at the center of policy discussions relating to water at the national and global levels – Indigenous Peoples, social movements, and water defenders, among others.
Previously, Ecojesuit took on a renewed effort to focus on Action for Water as a common ground for action and as a way forward. Five related areas of action were identified: 1) disaster risk reduction and water, 2) energy transition and divestment, 3) lifestyle, organic farming, and SDGs, 4) land use change, mining and resource extraction; and 5) education and solidarity.
Water is an essential element of God’s creation and in humanity’s survival. Committing to care and act for water is a common ground for action in addressing integral concerns.