Catholic bishops from the UK and Zimbabwe have joined people across the world in walking with water this week in support of a campaign to highlight water poverty.
The walks were planned to coincide with World Water Day, which was marked on Thursday (22 March).
World Walks for Water take place every year. This year, the Catholic aid agency CAFOD has encouraged its supporters to back the walks as part of its 'Thirst for Change' campaign.
The John Rawsthorne, Bishop of Hallam in England, and Michael Bhasera, Bishop of Masvingo in Zimbabwe, both went walking in their own countries, with CAFOD supporters and community members carrying water.
More than 350,000 people joined in the walks in over sixty countries. They called for an end to the crisis on water and sanitation.
CAFOD said that people were “walking in solidarity with the millions of people – overwhelmingly women and children - who walk great distances each day to collect water for their basic needs and the billions who have no safe place to go to the toilet.”
CAFOD is part of the coalition End Water Poverty that organises World Walks for Water each year.
“This is a vital campaign because water is a basic need and everyone has the right to it,” said Bishop Bhasera from south-east Zimbabwe, “It is easy to take water for granted when it is there, but it is so much more than just water – it is a lifeline and foundation for communities and individuals.”
He added, “Here in Zimbabwe where we are facing droughts, water is important for domestic and commercial use; being able to have clean water reduces disease, it increases development and lets people be independent and have time to get on with their lives, and that means water empowers people socially and economically.”
Speaking from South Yorkshire, Bishop Rawsthorne said, “We are walking today because it is right to stand beside those who are still fighting for clean water and safe sanitation. This is 2012 and it is astonishing that hundreds of millions are living without something so fundamental.”
He called on the UK government to “do everything in its power to help communities like Bishop Bhasera’s who are not only struggling without water infrastructure but with repeated droughts”.
In 2000 at the United Nations Millennium Summit, 189 world leaders signed onto the Millennium Declaration agreeing to meet eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The MDGs are a road map with measurable targets and clear deadlines for improving the lives of the world's poorest people.
The seventh MDG seeks to halve the number of people without access to clean water and safe sanitation. It was announced recently that the target to halve the number of people living without access to drinking water has been met five years early.
CAFOD campaigner Katy Harris described this as “a major global achievement”. But she was quick to add, “There is no time for complacency - 783 million people still lack access to clean drinking water”.
Despite the global statistic, there are wide regional disparities - 31 out of the 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are still not on track to meet the drinking water target.
“As usual it is the poorest who must wait the longest,” said Harris, “What’s more, there is another half of this target that has not yet been met: to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to basic sanitation”.
She explained, “2.5 billion people still lack toilets and sewage systems which are vital for human health and dignity, and diarrhoea is still the single biggest killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa. On current trends, it will be 350 years before Africa has universal access to both water and sanitation - which must go hand-in-hand if the health benefits are to be achieved.”
This Lent, CAFOD are calling on David Cameron to lead the way on ending water poverty. They say that the UK must use its international leadership on the issue of overseas development to press world leaders to end water poverty.
In G8 negotiations in 2012, CAFOD want the UK government to push for concrete concrete political and financial commitments to ensure the water and sanitation MDG is met by 2015. They also want to see full endorsement by all G8 countries of the international ‘Sanitation and Water for All’ initiative.
Katy Harris added, “Amidst the celebrations, it is more important than ever that we send a strong message to our government and remind them that their work is not yet done”.