Panel discussing how faith can contribute to achieving the UN SDGs. © Thomas Henrikson/SIWI

Panel discussing how faith can contribute to achieving the UN SDGs. © Thomas Henrikson/SIWI

How can religion and faith communities contribute to achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Setting out to address this very question, a panel of faith representatives gathered at World Water Week in Stockholm on 29 August, introduced by keynote speaker Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican. The panel was also welcomed by Rt. Rev. Thomas Söderberg, Church of Sweden.

“If UN mechanisms, governments and institutions do not tap the resources and the potential of the faith communities, then that is an opportunity lost,” observed panelist Dinesh Suna, coordinator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Water Network, who stressed the key role of faith communities in achieving water-related SDGs.

Suna also encouraged participants to join in the call of the WCC to eliminate bottled water from North America and Europe, where tap water is perfectly safe to drink. “The reason”, said Suna, “is that bottled water becomes an impediment to the realization of access to safe drinking water as a human right”.

In the keynote, Turkson observed that “there are many links between faith and development. Fruitful inter-religious dialogue, collaborations and synergies have already started in several sectors, such as health care, food security and stewardship of national resources”.

Söderberg observed that such links are growing ever stronger, with “the ground-breaking Papal encyclical Laudato Si', which encourages us on the pilgrimage of justice and peace, giving faith communities worldwide more reasons to work for ecological justice”.

“As Christians, we affirm water as a gift of God, and the cradle of life,” said Söderberg, who went on to highlight the call of Pope Francis and Christian communities around the globe for a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, on 1 September.

But safe drinking water is not the only aspect to faith communities’ engagement in water issues, Suna pointed out. “Water is sacred and important to many religions, but sanitation is not as easily addressed and therefore poses more of a challenge,” Suna said.

“As churches, we must not only celebrate world water day but also world toilet day,” Suna concluded. “Therefore we have taken the initiative to introduce a special hymn around sanitation. And before your imagination goes wild in relating hymns with toilets, it has been well-received by many churches.”

The event was jointly organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, Global Water Partnership, Swedish Institute Alexandria, and Church of Sweden.

World Water Week is an annual event organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).  It sets out to concretely address the planet’s water issues and related concerns of international development. The 2016 World Water Week goes under the theme of “Water for Sustainable Growth” and takes place on 28 August – 2 September.

World Council of Churches Ecumenical Water Network

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World Water Week 2016