- In these times of economic and environmental crisis, there is a fresh urgency for Christians to engage in reflection and action on the “economy of water”.
Water is the lifeblood of the planet as well as the economy. It is crucial for sustainable development in regard to health, food security, energy and poverty – issues that affect and engage churches around the world in different ways.
In 2012, the Seven Weeks for Water will pay special attention to the emerging and controversial “Green Economy” concept. The Green Economy aims at reconciling economic development with environmental and social well-being. It is one of the key topics for debate in the run-up to the United Nations’ “Rio+20” Conference on Sustainable Development.
Reflections on the following themes will be published each week, starting on Monday, 20 February:
Week 1: The economy of water
Water is the lifeblood of the planet as well as the economy. In the Bible, it is one of the symbols for God’s generosity and blessing, for healing and liberation. Yet in today’s economy, we often do not share water generously and with compassion. It is being appropriated and becomes a bone of contention.
Demand for this life-giving element is ever increasing – fuelled not only by the growing number of people living on our planet but by our ways of production and lifestyles that serve an unqualified and unquestioned pursuit of profits and gratification.
In a time of economic and environmental crisis and with the upcoming United Nations “Rio+20” Conference on Sustainable Development (20-22 June 2012) in mind, the theme of these Seven Weeks stresses the urgency for all of us to engage in reflection and action on the “economy of water”. Together we will try to understand how God’s generosity can be reflected in the management of our common household – the original meaning of “oikonomia”.
Thirst for water – thirst for life – A biblical reflection by Konrad Raiser
The biblical writings reflect the conditions of life in a country where water was scarce and therefore precious as the most vitally necessary means of survival. People depended on water from springs and wells, or from rainwater collected in cisterns which were carefully dug out. The availability of a well or cistern was of particular importance for semi-nomadic people and their flocks. As the conflict between Abraham and his son Isaac with Abimelech shows, the ownership of a well could easily become the subject of quarrels between those with large flocks (Gen. 21, 22ff; 26, 15ff).
Water in the Bible is one of the symbols for God’s generosity and blessing, for God provides what people need for their life. God is being praised as the good shepherd who leads one to quiet waters (Ps. 23, 2). There is little that people can do to secure their vital need for water, apart from collecting rain water or digging wells. God sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous, just as God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good ones (Matth. 5, 45) When Hagar and her son Ishmael ran out of water in the desert, God opened her eyes to see the saving well (Gen. 21, 15ff). When the people complained to Moses in the desert, because they had no water to drink, Moses was told by God to strike the rock and water came out (Ex. 17, 1ff).
God’s generosity is to be reflected in the relationships in human community. To offer water to one who is thirsty, even to the enemy, is a basic criterion of right relationships (Gen. 24, 15ff; Prov. 25, 21; Matth. 25, 42; Rom 12, 20). Only a villain or a fool will deprive the thirsty of drink (Isaiah 32, 6; Job 22, 7). Having to pay for water is considered as a mark of oppression and unjust treatment (Num. 20, 19; Lam. 5, 4). Water is a free gift from God to be shared without restriction on the community. The promise of salvation, therefore, is expressed in the invitation to everyone who thirsts to come to the water and drink without having to pay for it (Isaiah 55, 1). And God “will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground”. Water thus becomes the symbol for the outpouring of God’s spirit and blessing (Isaiah 44, 3).
To be thirsty for water is part of the human condition. It is the bodily expression of the longing for the fullness of life, but it can also turn into a greedy effort to maximize satisfaction. As the stories of the manna in the desert (Ex.16) or of the rich man who tried to store up his abundant harvest (Luke 12, 16ff) show, it is foolish to believe that the thirst will disappear by accumulating resources. In the dialogue with the Samaritan women Jesus points to the source that will quench the thirst for life: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again; but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing p to eternal life” (John 4, 13f). And the book of Revelation concludes with the invitation: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift” (Rev. 22, 17). The source of this water of life remains inaccessible for human greed.
The Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser is a theologian from Germany. He served as general secretary of the WCC from 1993-2003 and now lives in retirement in Berlin.
Background and resources
Water in the Rio+20 debate
Progressio: Water in a green and fair economy
A Progressio briefing on water in a green and fair economy including recommendations for Rio+20. [www.progressio.org.uk]
The Stockholm Statement to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20 Summit)
This closing statement of the 2011 World Water Week in Stockholm calls on leadership at all levels of government that will participate at the Rio+20 Summit (4-6 June 2012) to commit to achieving “universal provisioning of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and modern energy services by the year 2030” and to adopt intervening targets to increase efficiency in the management of water, energy and food. [www.worldwaterweek.org]
Water security for a planet under pressure
A brief on water security commissioned by the international conference Planet Under Pressure highlighting the integrated and coordinated nature of the response needed to fully incorporate water into the new green economies of the world. [pdf, 850 KB]
Water toolbox: A contribution to Rio+20
This water toolbox is an output from the UN-Water conference on ‘Water in the Green Economy in Practice: Towards Rio+20’. With an emphasis on economic instruments, financial sustainability & cost-recovery, and Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) it gives a good overview over the current mainstream debate of water challenges and solutions in the context of Rio+20. [pdf, 703.4 KB]
The Rio+20 summit
Rio+20: The essential information
Very helpful paper provided by Vitae Civilis seeking to provide an overview of the event, the issues at hand and the means of participation, as well as of many of the activities related to the conference that are being developed. [pdf, 130 KB]
Zero Draft needs more ambition, says Progressio
In response to the Zero Draft document Progressio, an international charity with Catholic roots, highlights that the Draft needs strengthening. One of the recommendations is to give stronger recognition of the need for sustainable and equitable access to water, particularly for women who play a crucial role as water managers for poor families and communities. [www.progressio.org.uk]
The Future They Want: A Critique of the Rio+20 Zero Draft
A critique of the Rio+20 Zero Draft from secular and ecumenical organizations from Brazil, Germany, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, Bangladesh and Malaysia. “Governments do not seem to be willing to address the various crises, created by the failure of capitalist system resulting in increased poverty and food crisis, the climate crisis, the resource crisis, the financial and economic crisis and the crisis of global governance.” [pdf, 20 KB]
Towards Rio+20 and beyond – a turning point in Earth history
This interreligious statement drafted by Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp from the Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values is geared at enabling spiritual and religious communities to speak in a unified voice for providing a spiritual input into the UN Conference. [pdf, 90 KB]
Joint submission to the Rio+20 Zero Draft by the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation
The submission underlines that, in the churches’ perspective, justice must be the basic criterion of applied ethics in all decisions concerning the measures to promote sustainable development. [www.uncsd2012.org]
Joint submission to the Rio+20 Zero Draft by APRODEV and ACT Alliance
The submission highlights a number of concerns on green economy and global governance in relation to sustainable development, but also addresses the broader debate about sustainable development. APRODEV is a network of 16 European development agencies related to the World Council of Churches. The ACT Alliance is an alliance of more than 125 churches and church related organisations that work together in development, humanitarian aid and advocacy. [pdf, 400 KB]
Ecumenical participation in Río+20: “We need to speak with a single voice”
Interview with Rafael Soares de Oliveira, Executive Secretary of KOINONIA- Ecumenical Presence and Witness in Brazil. [alcnoticias.net]
Not just something for young people and the classroom! This publication by the Road to Rio+20 initiative is designed to introduce young people to the issues that will be central to Rio+20. It first provides a useful introduction to Rio+20 and the Road to Rio+20 initiative and then moves forward to activities & lesson plans. [www.roadtorioplus20.org/workbook]