12-18 August 2007
By the Rev Dr Jeffrey Golliher, Program Director for the Environment and Sustainable Development, AOUN
Water covers two thirds of the Earth's surface. Nearly three fourths of all living tissues consist of water -- human bodies, animals, fishes, and plants. Water is everywhere, yet over one billion people do not have water that is clean enough to drink…
Water is a priority issue for the Office of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations. Accordingly, in August I represented the Anglican Communion at the World Water Week in Stockholm. Sponsored by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the World Water Week is a well-established forum for international efforts to find sustainable solutions to the world’s escalating water crisis. That the water crisis exists and will become considerably worse in the years ahead has been known among scientists and policy-makers for some time. In fact, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, recently suggested the establishment of a process, parallel to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which would turn the world’s attention to the water crisis. Like climate change, the water crisis is already underway and its impact is felt most acutely in the poorest countries, especially with respect to drought, food security, and health.
This year’s conference focused on a number of interrelated issues: (1) primarily, but not exclusively, the impact of climate change on the water cycle and projected regional climate variability in relation to water hazards, freshwater supplies, and agriculture, (2) progress toward meeting the water and sanitation dimensions of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and (3) the extent to which water scarcity may seriously hamper economic development.
Much of the discussion addressed, directly or indirectly, the findings of the 2007 report of the Joint Monitoring Program for the MDGs. According to the report, access to safe water supplies increased from 78% to 83% between 1990 (the base line year) and 2004. Several speakers in Stockholm, however, noted the misleading nature of these figures, which are based on technology-dependent indicators. For example, households which have access to centralized water systems are counted, if when the water is so polluted to be unsafe. Similarly, the statistics do not take into account aging and decrepit infrastructure that is in need of repair.
While progress toward achieving the MDGs is being made in many countries, severe, and even growing, problems remain in Sub-Saharan Africa, North African States, and the Middle East. In those regions, the development and finance of local water networks require immediate attention. Many households in poor urban areas still have no access to water facilities. Investment and up-front funding are urgently needed from both private and public sources. In rural areas, where water supplies are continually threatened by seasonal shortages and unstable climate variability, people devote increasing amounts of time simply to finding water. Due, in part, to unsustainable agricultural practices and changing climate, rivers are drying up and water table levels are falling. These trends suggest that the impact of climate change on the water crisis, together with lack of public will, outpaces current efforts to achieve the MDGs.
One seminar at the Stockholm conference deserves a special note: “Water, Ethics, and Religion,” organized primarily by UNESCO, the Stockholm International Water Institute, and the European Council of Religious Leaders. The seminar followed the Kyoto Declaration of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (2006) which encourages religious leaders to “hold governmental accountable for commitments they make on behalf of their people,” “to become effective educators, advocates and actors for conflict transformation, fostering justice, peace building, and sustainable development,” and to “further commitment to actions for women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.”