Water is a spiritual issue
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Water may be the earth's most precious resource, and the supply of it is rapidly shrinking. The Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) is bringing this warning to the 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre in a host of different ways.
On Wednesday, 15 February, Right Livelihood Award 2005-winner Dr Tony Clarke kicked off the activities with an address under the EWN tent on the Pontifical University of Rio Grande do Sul campus. "It's important that at this moment we recognize the serious questions confronting us on the planet over water, " said Clarke, honoured for his work with the global water justice movement.
He called this a "kairos moment" for the church to address water issues, such as the "deep disparities between water-poor and water-rich nations", the exponentially growing demand for water, and the attempts to privatize and commoditize water. "Water is now replacing oil as the commodity of the century", Clarke said.
Those are key concerns of EWN, a fledgling network that only formally organized this past November after initial meetings in late 2004. It arose out of the World Council of Churches' working group on climate change, where activists began to look at the many linkages between climate change and water issues.
Convened by the WCC, the Ecumenical Water Network is composed of an assortment of partners who share similar concerns. The religious context is significant because, as Clarke noted, water is an important symbol in virtually every religious tradition.
"Water and the access to water is a spiritual issue," said Joy Kennedy of KAIROS in Canada, one of the EWN partners. "Yes, it's a human right, yes, it's a lot of things, but it's a spiritual issue. We need to address it at a spiritual level."
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia also focused on water in a pre-Assembly address, calling it a "major issue", one that will be "a major source of wars in the 21st century". He expressed hopes that the Assembly would give significant attention to the issue.
Such attention would be welcomed by EWN as well. Kennedy said the network is not looking for a WCC programme committee on water, but it does hope that it can be a focus that receives attention through the Council's work.
EWN plans several other presentations under its own tent during the Assembly, as well as two mutirão workshops elsewhere on the campus. The network was also a sponsor of water bottles given to all Assembly participants this week.