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Water and the World We Want

Written by Derek Duncan
April 30, 2014

In 2000 the community of nations assembled at the United Nations and committed to roll up their sleeves in an effort to meet the critical human needs facing the world. Advances in food security, gender equality, literacy, and maternal and children’s health were among the global and national benchmarks outlined in eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targeted to be met by the year 2015.

Important goals toward protecting water and the environment were highlighted in MDG 7. Core to increasing environmental sustainability was a multinational commitment to reduce by half the proportion of the world’s population without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Clean water is not only key to good health, but important for enhancing social development and life opportunities, especially for women and girls, and integral to the security and infrastructure of communities. Similarly, adequate sanitation is essential to disease control, to ensuring individual dignity and safety, and to effective community planning.

In 2006 the Common Global Ministries Board passed a Resolution to Recommend the Millennium Development Goals for Study and Action, and in 2007 the Global Ministries Board approved a statement, One in Body and Spirit, that endorsed the MDGs as “a means to address global poverty and neglect, and encouraged our churches and partners to seek ways to play an effective role in civil society to achieve them.”  The statement affirmed that “Healing the physical as well as spiritual brokenness of poverty and want in our world is central to the heart of God’s will for the Church. The prophet Isaiah tells us this is the fast the Lord desires: ‘If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday’ (Isaiah 58:9b-10).”

Global Ministries has played a role in helping increase global access to clean water as part of working to meet the MDGs. In 2006 Global Ministries created an educational campaign focused on issues of water sustainability and privatization, and the need to increase access to clean water. Global Ministries supported the Word Council of Churches Water for Life! campaign and joined Church World Service in supporting projects for its Water for All initiative. Global Ministries helped produce the TV-broadcast documentary Troubled Waters, that illustrated the ethical obligations, drawn from the well of our religious traditions, to ensure that life-giving water is protected and available for everyone. We continue to highlight priority water projects of Global Ministries partners for support, such as efforts with partners like the Church of North India and the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services in Egypt to fund water and sanitation projects and shape public policy that protects water rights. Donors to Global Ministries have helped build wells, pumps, irrigation systems and cisterns in Angola, China, Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Current advocacy focuses on protecting water sources for indigenous communities endangered by pollution from mining operations in places like Guatemala and the Philippines.

As we approach 2015, the target horizon for the MDGs, we ask “Have these ambitious goals been met?” According to the United Nations, the world met the target of halving the proportion of people without access to clean water around 2010, five years ahead of schedule. Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to cleaner drinking water sources. Consequently, global access to cleaner water has increased to nearly 90 percent. Moreover, two billion more people have access to improved sanitation today than they had in 1990.

Despite these advances, there is more work to do. Around 700 million people still do not have reliable access to cleaner drinking water. Results have also varied geographically. Over 40 per cent of all people still without clean water live in sub-Saharan Africa. There also remains a significant gap regarding access to adequate sanitation; 2.5 billion people around the world still lack safe, clean toilets.

To build on the success of the MDGs beyond 2015, the United Nations is encouraging a variety of groups around the word to engage in a global conversation about what comes next. The UN is issuing a special invitation to civil society groups during the week of May 5-11 to choose the changes they would most like to see happen in “The World We Want.” What current global challenges to human development, rights, and security should the international community address over the next decades? What has received too little attention or none at all in the area of environmental sustainability? Cleaner energy, more protections for forests and oceans, even more progress on cleaner, safer sanitation for all? Clean, available water is essential for life, but will become increasingly scarce and under threat from climate change in the futures. How can we continue to make water a priority on the global agenda, and continue to include Global Ministries in the effort?

Derek Duncan is the Program Associate for Global Advocacy and Education and is based in Cleveland, Ohio.

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