Only 2.53 percent of Earth’s water is fresh, and some two-thirds of that is locked up in glaciers and permanent snow cover. But despite the very real danger of future global water shortages, for the vast majority of the nearly one billion people without safe drinking water, today’s water crisis is not an issue of just scarcity, but of access. Every minute a child dies of water-borne disease, one person out of nine lacks access to safe drinking water, and more people in the world today have a mobile phone than access to a toilet.
There is increasing reference to the age of the Anthropocene where humans, with our capacities and abilities, are transforming the Earth beyond its natural processes. We have punctured the ozone layers and continuously emit greenhouse gases that increase global temperatures. The ice caps are melting at dangerously fast rates, promising to inundate vast tracts of land and coastal regions. Rivers are dammed and their courses changed. Groundwater reservoirs are exhausted and the environment contaminated with toxic wastes, devastating fragile ecosystems.
Industrial abuse is depleting aquifers, depriving agriculture and the communities that traditionally depend on these resources. There is also now the phenomenon of climate refugees and the destitute making beelines to the cities in search of victuals that the land – their land – can no longer provide.
Water today is a packaged product sipped from manufactured plastic bottles that are peddled – a clever advertisement perfected for the wealthy, for a resource that God created for all humankind.
Water is synonymous with life and nurtures parched throats and barren lands, helping all God’s creatures to not only thrive, but also to live. This benevolent life force also inundates through tsunamis, hurricanes, and floods. The Lord says: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”
This is the context with which the Department of Environmental Studies of Saint Xavier’s College in Kolkata, India, with the Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN)-Ecology are organizing an international conference on global climate change and water disasters from 27 to 29 March 2015. Academics and researchers on water-related studies, government representatives from water-related agencies, and Jesuits from the GIAN-Ecology network will gather and contribute to the development of action plans for the South Asian assistancy.
The conference activities are also undertaken in collaboration with the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat, ITC Limited and the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority, and the Collectorate in West Bengal.
Fr. Xavier Savarimuthu, SJ is the Head of the Department of Environmental Studies at Saint Xavier’s College in Kolkata, India