Churches set to respond to African water crisis

By staff writers
17 May 2007

According to some estimates, over 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack adequate access to safe water. What can churches do to help ensure sufficient and safe water - a basic human right - for all the continent's inhabitants?

A 21-25 May conference in Entebbe, Uganda, to be opened by Uganda's minister of water and environment, will discuss the role of churches in the face of the African water crisis.

The conference, says Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) coordinator Maike Gorsboth, is about "the churches' role in providing water and sanitation to communities, but also about how churches can address the political, social and economic conditions that underlie water access problems. It will explore how we, as churches, can help to make people's God-given right to water a reality."

Organized by the EWN under the auspices of the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), the conference will bring together more than 70 participants: staff from international NGOs and specialized agencies, water experts, project coordinators, theologians and church leaders from 20 African countries, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland.

Starting from a review of water supply and access to water in rural Africa, and the effects of climate change, economic and political factors, the conference will study practical community-based water initiatives in the context of integrated rural development, health needs, and water management in regions affected by climate change.

Taking a human rights approach to water, the conference will discuss problems like the privatisation, commodification and pollution of water, and conflicts around water and other natural resources. Participants will engage in theological and biblical reflection on the theme of water, and pay field visits to water projects in an urban slum in Kampala, and in two rural dioceses.

Emphasis will be given to how responses to water needs and problems that have proven to be successful can be promoted and scaled up in environmentally disadvantaged and water-stressed areas in Africa. Participants will identify concrete needs, means and strategies for implementation, and consider how to build or reinforce regional networks to campaign for the right to water in their countries.

The Ecumenical Water Network is an initiative of Christian churches, organizations and movements which have joined hands to protect and realize people's access to water around the world; promote community-based initiatives and solutions to overcome the water crisis; and to ensure that a common Christian witness in the debate on water issues is heard.

The World Council of Churches has offered a home for the EWN Secretariat and helps to facilitate cooperation among the partners involved.

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