Urgent action is needed to promote integrated solutions to the problems of water supply, sanitation and protection of the environment, says the final statement of the 'Churches for Water in Africa' conference, held last week in Entebbe, Uganda.
The conference gathered nearly 70 participants including church leaders, theologians, water experts and project coordinators. They came from 19 African countries as well as from Europe and Latin America to discuss the role of churches in the face of the water crisis in Africa.
It was organized by the Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) in cooperation with the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC), the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the Uganda-based Agency for Corporation and Research in Development (ACCORD).
Participants at the conference urged governments and multilateral institutions to respect the human right to water and meet their obligations regarding its provision.
"One important step is to prioritize the just and sustainable provision of water to the poor and the most excluded, and to make water and sanitation a strong component of national budgets and other financial allocations, including development aid," says the conference's final statement, read by Bishop Elisa Buberwa of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
The participants noted that, in spite of promises made in the context of the Millennium Development Goals, in rural Africa 65% of the population lack access to sufficient and safe water supply and 73% to adequate sanitation.. This hinders the chances of achieving those goals. "Poverty can never be overcome, if the issue of water and sanitation is not adequately addressed," says the statement.
In his closing speech, Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga, from the Uganda Orthodox Church, criticized the current trend to commodify and privatise common goods. He encouraged conference participants to "continue the debate with enthusiasm upon related issues in the country and region".
Participants were troubled by the impact of climate change, which causes unpredictable rainfall, prolonged droughts, devastating floods, desertification and drying up of water sources. "The existence and future of millions of people is jeopardised," the statement says.
They affirmed that access to water is a fundamental human right, protection and control of water resources is a central public responsibility and that water must not be treated as a commodity, but as an essential social good for the present and future generations. "Provision of water for all is possible. The way towards it passes through the prioritisation of the poor and most excluded in water policies and funds allocation," says the statement.
Participants from churches and faith organizations affirmed water as cradle and source of life, and an expression of God's grace in perpetuity for the whole of creation. They asserted that faith based groups were called upon to exercise responsible stewardship, preserve and share it, for the benefit of humanity and creation.
The conference's programme included interaction with local communities. Participants visited an informal settlement in Kampala City and rural communities in the Masaka western region and in Busoga in the East.
The conference stated that the participation of rural communities and disadvantaged communities at all stages of intervention on water issues is not only a democratic imperative, but also a precondition for sustainability and a prerequisite for peace.
Participants welcomed the opportunity to learn technologies and approaches used in other African countries that they could apply in their own work. The need to further deepen the exchange on best practices was highlighted.
The Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) will facilitate continued dialogue among the conference participants, and broaden it to include other churches and church-related organizations. A number of follow-up workshops are planned for 2008.
The EWN is an initiative of Christian churches, organizations and movements who advocate for water as a human right and work to promote people's access to water through community-based initiatives around the world.