Today, we have a guest post by Charlie Bartlett and Iyad Abu Moghli of the UNEP Faith for Earth Coalition on the activity surrounding, and actions coming out, of the recent UN 2023 Water Conference. For more information about their work, see the links in the story or go to the Faith for Earth site. Please also see the list of additional resources at the end.
Faith organizations are already engaged in water action, but can they do more?
Humanity is facing a water crisis. Some 2 billion people around the world still lack access to safe drinking water. And demand for water keeps growing, with pressure on fresh water projected to increase by more than 40 per cent by 2050.
The World Water Development Report 2023 stresses that partnerships and innovative forms of cooperation on water are key for accelerating action to better manage and equitably share the world’s most precious resource. By promoting participation and dialogue, and giving voices to those that are otherwise not heard, partnerships can help ensure that no one is left behind, it says.
Faith organizations can make a difference here, say experts. “Adherents of different faiths across the world have huge potential and the financial muscle to influence governments to act now to invest in the conservation and restoration of water bodies and their sustainable management,” says Iyad Abumoghli, Principal Coordinator of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Faith for Earth Coalition.
“The world’s religions can also help construct a narrative that downplays the importance of material possessions in favour of nature and spiritual and mental well-being. They can convey messages of modesty and restraint and help curb what Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has described as the `vampiric overconsumption’ driving ecosystems degradation, pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change,” he adds.
The UNEP-led Faith for Earth Coalition is a global multistakeholder platform that seeks to facilitate partnerships with faith leaders, faith-based organizations and people of faith at global, regional and local levels to inspire, empower and strengthen action and behavioral change towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Fresh water is not only vital for humans but entire ecosystems. Freshwater habitats house an incredible proportion of the world’s biodiversity: more than 10 per cent of all known animals and about 50 per cent of all known fish species.
A new UNEP chapter in the Faith for Earth development series, How Water is reflected in the World’s Religions (to be published in May 2023) highlights the fact that almost all religions revere and value water as a purifier, part of nature, and a giver of life.
The publication – part of the Faith for Earth Coalition Development Series – says religions and faith-based organizations can help accelerate transformational change for water by serving as advocates, messengers, implementers and guardians in realizing the SDGs. They have great potential, it says, for mobilizing funding and influencing behavioural change in favour of improved access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, and sustainable water use.
Valuing water and nature is vital for biodiversity protection, pollution control and climate change adaptation and mitigation. UNEP’s 2021 flagship report Making Peace With Nature highlights the interconnected nature of ecosystems. For example, forests are vital for healthy watersheds. Protecting and restoring forests, and other natural ecosystems and their biodiversity, is a nature-based solution and something the Faith for Earth Coalition seeks to promote: UNEP is a partner in the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative.
Faith-based organizations can, and are, contributing to the Water Action Agenda, the key outcome of the UN 2023 Water Conference, says Abu Moghli. Some of these initiatives can be found in the UNEP report Faith Action on the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Clean Water and Sanitation, an interactive online database showcasing environmental efforts led by religious communities worldwide.
This resource was produced in collaboration with Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the United Religions Initiative to raise awareness around the need to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems. The Faith for Earth Coalition also served as a co-lead to the International Partnership on Religion and Development’s workstream Environment, Water and Climate Action for water justice globally.
For example, Muslim Hands tests water sources, constructs wells, installs filtration systems, carries out sanitation projects and trains people to keep their water sources clean. It supports local people in maintaining water projects, ensuring that mechanisms put in place don’t fall apart after project closure. The organization says it had provided safe water to 2.6 million people by 2021, constructing over 14,000 tube wells and installing over 1,000 community wells in the last decade.
Faith organizations sign Water Justice Manifesto
At the UN 2023 Water Conference faith organizations rallied support for the Water Justice Manifesto which stresses the need to ensure equitable access to safe water for marginalized groups such as indigenous peoples and isolated or impoverished rural communities.
At an event at the conference UNEP demanded a “faith action agenda” and a stronger “faith-science-policy nexus” to maximize the spiritual importance of water, underscore the human right to water, and help accelerate action on the Sustainable Development Agenda. To this end, UNEP recently launched an online course on Faith and Water with KAICIID, a partner that promotes interreligious and intercultural dialogue.
During the conference, the Faith for Earth Coaliiton urged faith groups to enhance their commitments under the Water Action Agenda.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched the Faith for Earth Initiative in November 2017 to strategically engage with faith-based organizations and partner with them to collectively achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Faith for Earth, now officially called the Faith for Earth Coalition, also seeks to inspire and empower faith organizations and their leaders to advocate the greening of faith-based organizations’ investments and assets.
The United Nations Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development (Annual report, Nov 2022)
Clearing the Waters (UNEP, 2010)