"It is a true miracle that we are able to assemble at this critical juncture to help forge a global partnership for living water for all." With these words did Rabbi Soetendorp open the "Living Water - Towards a Water-secure World"-Conference that the Soetendorp Institute organized together with Inner Sense and Earth Charter Netherlands on March 20 as a preparation to the Wings for Water Multi Stakeholder Dialogue and the official celebrations of World Water Day 2013 that took place on the two succeeding days. 

meetingSome 85 people participated in the event that started in the headquarters of the VNO-NCW, the Dutch employers' organization, and was continued in the Liberal Jewish Synagogue. The main focus of the event that connected these seemingly separate worlds was to facilitate a dialogue between international leaders from the fields of religion, youth organizations, civil society and business.



The afternoon session at the VNO-NCW was opened with key note addresses of Mr. Theo Schmitz, director of VEWIN, the association of Dutch drinking water companies, and the youth representative Mr. Bart Devos who shared about the international Youth Parliament on Water that he is chairing.

The floor was then given to Dr. Husna Ahmad OBE, Group Director of the Faith Regen Foundation in the UK who has authored the booklet "Islam and Water" and just recently launched a water conservation toolkit for Muslim communities in Bangladesh. Dr. Husna spoke about the important role that faith-based communities are playing in raising awareness about water issues, implementing local solutions and empowering women to become water-wise. She then shared about her innovative water education project where she produced a cartoon about the story of Hajjar, the second wife of the Prophet Ibrahim, whose search for water is commemorated every year by millions of Muslim pilgrims who are doing the Hajj. Please find more information about this project here.

 

In the dialogue that followed, Dinesh Suna, Coordinator of the Ecumenical Water Network of the World Council of Churches addressed the theme of water justice that is promoted by many faith-based networks around the world. "Water is the cradle of life, an expression of God's grace in perpetuity for the whole creation. This is why it should be preserved and shared for the benefit of the wider creation," said Suna, quoting from the WCC statement on "water for life."

In his presentation, Suna brought attention to the fact that more than 780 million people are living without adequate access to safe drinking water, along with 2.5 billion people without access to proper sanitation facilities. His own report on the event can be found here. A further report about EWN's participation in the Wings for Water Dialogue on March 21 and the High Level Forum on Water on March 22 can be found here

His presentation was complemented by Dr. Onno Ruding, former Dutch Minister of Finance who was officially participating in the conference on behalf of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which is coordinating the activities of Roman Catholic Institutions around the world to promote justice, peace and human rights. Dr. Ruding passed the greetings of Kardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, President of the Council and then highlighted the need for good water governance from the global to the local level:

"We need virtuous and farsighted financial and political mechanisms in order to radically improve the water situation and, widely, the development one. What means virtuous? I mean that a valid ethic is essential for designing and implementing financial and political measures. Such an ethic results on recognition of human dignity. It cannot be inspired by relativism neither by the law of profit. And, definitely, here there is a key role for religions. This is the central idea that I want to share during this Conference."

His entire message to the Wings for Water Multistakeholder Dialogue can be downloaded here. Please find a compilation of Roman Catholic statements and words of wisdom of the Holy Father on Water here.

The event then shed light on two groundbreaking projects to safeguard the Jordan and the Ganga as two river systems that together are sacred to over 4.5 billion people - over two thirds of the entire global population. Mr. Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Coordinator of Friends of the Earth Middle East started by explaining his efforts of "environmental peacemaking" in the Middle East by bringing together Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians in the rehabilitation of the Jordan that is facing massive ecological problems. They are now starting a programme that especially focuses on involving faith based communities in this work.

Watch Mr. Bromberg share about the successes of the Jordan Rehabilitation Programme: 



He was joined by Sadhvi Adityananda Saraswati who shared about her activities at the Ganga Action Parivar to protect the "Holy Mother Ganga" in India, such as the "6 Ts" Programme - "Toilets, Trash, Trees, Taps, Tracks and Tigers". The Ganga Action Parivar also helped to facilitate the first ever eco-friendly Kumbh Mela in February 2013 - the mass pilgrimage event that brought over 120 Million people together in a ritualistic bathing in the Ganga.  

Please watch below the video about their "sanitation for life" - programme:


Reflecting on the inspiring projects and the rich dialogues, the group then walked to the nearby historical Liberal Synagogue where Awraham Soetendorp served as Rabbi for over 35 years. The evening programme focused on the spiritual dimension of water and its sanctity in our diverse religious and spiritual traditions. It was opened by a guided meditation led by Swami Jyothirmaya of the Art of Living Foundation as well as the prayers and greetings from the Chief Imam of India Umer Ahmad Ilyasi who quoted passages on water in the holy Qur'an and commemorated on his interreligious friendship with Rabbi Soetendorp who he respectfully calls "his elder brother".

A further key note address came from Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis who read a greeting note especially prepared by His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the ecumenical head of the Orthodox Church who shares a deep concern about water.  

"For Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, as for all the world's faith communities, clean water is a blessing from God. The earth and its resources belong first and foremost to God; they can never become private commodities. Therefore, the first goal of any religious person is to educate religious communities and their members to the seriousness of the emerging clean water problem and to enlist their participation in water conservation. We should propagate an ecological ethic, which reminds us that the world's water is not ours to use as we please. It is a gift of God's love to us. It is our obligation to return that love by protecting it with whatever responsibilities this may entail. This common purpose unites all human beings in the same way as all the waters of the world are united."
Please read the whole greeting note here.

After this passionate plea to mobilize faith-based organizations to weigh in on the global water discussions, Soetendorp Institute Programme Manager Michael Slaby called on the assembled leaders to use the forthcoming days to think about tangible ways how such a mobilization could be facilitated. "Does anyone know how much water is needed to produce just one cotton T-Shirt?" he asked. "2.700 litres of water. That is equivalent to flushing the toilet 225 times. Please think about it next time you are going shopping. One very tangible way how religious leaders could support the creating of a water-secure world would be to raise awareness among their adherents about the connection between water, consumption and the food we eat. If all of the world's 4,5 billion Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus for whom the Jordan and the Ganga is sacred would commit to eating lower on the food-chain, this would be a major step in the right direction" he asserted.  

The event was then closed by an intergenerational Feather Ceremony where the two youth representatives Patrick Nickisch from Germany and Lindar Otieno from Kenya shared their visions for a water-secure world and the Grandmothers Pauline Tangiora from Aotearoa / New Zealand and the Hopi Indian Elder Mona Ann Polacca responded by sharing a core lesson of their lives. Grandmother Mona shared:

"We are water people. We all spend the first nine months of our lives in the water of our mother's womb. That is why we call it ‘Holy Mother Waters'.  Everything from the water are our relatives and we must respect them. I was told, ‘You must always respect the water, it is sacred. You must always approach the water with goodness in your being, and introduce yourself before you use it in any way.'"

The Soetendorp Institute

Contact

Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values
Van Wijngaerdenstraat 21
2596 TW The Hague
The Netherlands
info@soetendorpinstitute.org

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