Amos 5:24 states “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Beyond being used as a metaphor, water itself is a justice issue. Two billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water at home.
At the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev. Elias Wolff, from Brazil, talks about the situation in his own country. “Brazil has 12% of the world’s fresh water, and 53% of the fresh water of Latin America. But 35 million people in Brazil have no access to fresh water, and 100 million lack access to sanitation infrastructure.”
Wolff looks at water as a divine gift, a human right, and a common good.
Rivers are a gift from God for all people, not for the corporations that seek to divert and exploit them, Wolff explains. “When a company takes all the water, there is no water for the people, for their farms,” he says. “Water wasn’t given from God for just a few, but for all people and it is our right. We can’t change the path of the water for the desire of one person.”
Mira Neaimeh, a young person from Lebanon, described water injustice in Palestine. “Governments are using water for politics,” she said. “People are being denied their right to access clean water because of political issues… Lebanese people are denied water, Palestinians do not have access to drinking water, the Jordan River has been seeing drastic changes in its levels for the past 20 years.
“This is the time we should work together. We are affected, we are suffering. Two thirds of my region’s population is living with no renewable water resources. This is not a question of geography, this is a question of politics!”
The Rt. Rev. Riscylla Shaw, from the Anglican Church of Canada, said “Water is life! We are being called to engage in water justice. Reconciliation is working for access for all to clean drinking water, and listening to wisdom of the people of the land in caretaking for our sibling Water.”
As of November 2021, there were 99 water advisories in Canadian First Nations communities, some of which had been in place for over 25 years. The Anglican Church of Canada, through its Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and through grassroots organizations, responds to the needs in some of those communities.
Wolff believes that we cannot change these political and economic understandings of water unless we bring in the spiritual understanding. Because water is a divine gift, it is for the good of all, and must be available to all people, to all creatures and plants that need it. “Water links the people, the communities, the diversity of society, and the planet,” he says. “Water is the way of reconciliation. All people drink the same water. All people need to protect the source of their water. By water we reconcile with the Holy.”
Wolff’s passion for water justice has led him to work with REDA, the Ecumenical Water Network in Brazil. REDA meets for reflection, liturgy, theological and sociological study, and discussions on water issues in their context.
“Churches need to defend the spiritual sense of water,” Wolff said. “Our point is to input our spiritual perspective into the discussions on water in Brazil. Other people bring the political and economic sense, but we need to see water not as a commodity, but as a gift, and a spiritual element.”
With faith actors standing up for water rights around the world, including in Brazil, Canada, Lebanon and Palestine, that spiritual sense, and the view of water as a divine gift, human right, and a common good may yet prevail.