The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it; 
for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.

Psalm 24,1-2, NRSV

The psalmist once declared, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). From generation to generation, we have a lifespan to enjoy and steward God’s Earth. However, in recent decades, industries that unsustainably extract from God’s Earth have been spinning out of control. Their actions challenge God's sovereignty over the gifts that were created for sharing by  all Creation and for all generations. Extractive and other industries have been privatizing the natural gifts of God’s Earth and have excluded local communities from sharing in these gifts.

The diamond and coal industries are common examples, but the extraction and processing of water is a particularly outrageous example of how God's gifts are abused for the profit and private interests of some at the expense of others If a company controls the exploitation of diamonds or coal, the local community often does not profit from the extraction, production, and sales, while bearing the burden of the devastation of their lands. If a company controls and exploits water, the same rules apply, but in addition the local community – and all God’s creatures that rely on water – may be excluded from this basic life-sustaining resource. . U.S. theologian James Cone once said, “The survival of the earth… is a moral issue for everybody. If we do not save the earth from destructive human behavior, no one will survive.”[1]

The commoditization of water with little or no regard for the people and ecosystems that rely upon water has become a rising trend. With the global economic crisis, privatizing water systems is increasingly being considered as a way for governments to offset costs. In many cases the excessive commercial use of ground and surface waters are affecting the quality and distribution of water.

When water is sold, polluted, and depleted for industrial purposes or for bottling, who really pays? It is God’s Creation and God's people who pay a heavy price. Freshwater species that have taken millions of years to evolve are becoming endangered and extinct at an alarming rate.[2] One in eight people lack access to safe drinking water,[3] almost two thirds of whom ive on less than US$2 per day.[4]

Corporations and markets should not have control over life and death. Quaker Scottish theologian Alastair McIntosh calls people of faith critically to examine the marketing schemes of our day that try to fool us into believing buying more will bring us transcendent values such as beauty, purity, intelligence, power, confidence, or love. We must ask ourselves: does our desire to affirm our humanity in this way spring from the presence of God, or do we try to fill a void in our souls by consuming products will eliminate our need for God? McIntosh urges us to pull back the veil on companies’ efforts to “commoditize the human soul” and engage in transformative communities that “call back the soul”.[5]

As a federation of students, we have identified this work of “calling back the soul” as being deeply tied to water justice. Water exploitation creates a hierarchy of who lives and who dies; a hierarchy that is contrary to the order of God’s Creation. If our generation and the generations that follow are raised to see something as basic as water as a mere commodity, what will keep us from seeing everything through the lens of commoditization including our relationships, our time, our life’s work and our commitment to God?

If we indeed affirm that God alone is the giver of life, why would people of faith assent to allowing corporations to commoditize water – an essential gift for all life? Corporate advertising manipulates us to believe unrestrained indulgence in many of the products of privatized water is morally acceptable and desirable. Bottled water and sodas, all the latest gadgets, unbridled use of fossil fuels, and consuming factory farmed foods are part of the fabric of industrialized cultures such as ours in the United States. The devastation of one community for the advancement of another through the lower cost of consumer goods has become the norm as a result of this unrestrained indulgence.

The need for action is urgent. One percent of the world’s water is what the Earth’s people, creatures of the land, and creatures of freshwater share for drinking, cooking, sanitation, and habitat. This water does not belong to any single community or species, so one can neither truly purchase nor sell it. Watershed communities must share the costs of water treatment and restoration, not outsource stewardship to corporations whose primary interest is profit.

The students and young people of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), with many partners like the Ecumenical Water Network, are taking actions to increase the awareness about water justice. We invite you to join us in finding out where local water sources are, and whether your city or municipality is considering privatizing these sources. Consider ways of reducing the consumption of products that come from commoditized water to increase the just sharing of the world’s water sources. As Mahatma Gandhi asserted, “the earth is sufficient for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.”[6]

One percent of fresh water has sustained generations in the past. As those whom God has entrusted to till and keep the Earth, we are only the stewards of water, to ensure its safe passage from one generation to the next. Our stewardship must include not only the safe passage, but also the understanding that water is not a commodity, but a gift on loan from the Lord for us to use and share.

Shantha Ready Alonso currently serves as Student Vice Chair of the World Student Christian Federation. She is employed with the National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program in the United States. Linwood Blizzard II is in his last year at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington D.C. and serves as Treasurer of the WSCF’s North America Region.


[1] James Cone, “Whose Earth Is It Anyway?” p. 5.

[2] In our home, the United States, 40 percent of freshwater fish and amphibians, half of all crayfish, half of freshwater snails, and two thirds of all freshwater mussels are endangered or extinct. (United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved on March 1 at www.epa.gov/bioiweb1/aquatic/freshwater.html)

[3] UNICEF/WHO. 2008. Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation.

[4] DfiD [Department for International Development] Sanitation Reference Group. 2008.

[5] Alastair McIntosh. Climate Justice Seminar. WSCF Executive Committee Meeting, Beirut. October 2010.

[6] Cited in Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1997), 2.