Danny Gillis of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace pours water during a ceremony in Ottawa Oct. 6 launching a national campaign to protect public access to safe water in Canada and elsewhere.
Canadian church leaders including the primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, helped launched a national campaign last month near the Rideau River aimed at protecting public access to safe water in Canada and elsewhere.
Speaking on Oct. 6 from a band shell to about 60 people, the church leaders and representatives of eight denominations voiced concerns about the privatization of water and urged the federal government to take action to ensure that water is kept under public control with community participation.
The primate underscored the need for the campaign, entitled, Water: Life Before Profit! when he spoke of a recent meeting he attended with the bishops of northern Canada. “We met in Split Lake, in northern Manitoba, and there the 2,600 people have been living on bottled water ever since the development of the Manitoba Hydro projects in that province – bottled water which, in spite of the inflated price of fuel in Canada, still sells at more per litre than does a litre of gasoline.”
Split Lake is about 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg and is home to the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, which five years ago signed an agreement with Manitoba Hydro to provide the native community with equity in the proposed Gull Project hydro development (see related story). Manitoba Premier Gary Doer referred to the signing as “an historic day for all Manitobans.”
Archbishop Hutchison said, “Access – and free access – to clean water is an imperative, not only elsewhere in the world but indeed, here in the far north, in Canada.”
He also said the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the church’s development arm, has sent a pastoral letter and resources to every Anglican congregation in the country and invited them to join the water campaign.
The campaign launch, organized by Kairos, a national, ecumenical justice coalition, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, included a ceremony rich with symbolism in which clean water was poured into a larger jar and carried away by water bearers. As well, stories from Canada and the global South were related aimed at conveying the message that the world is facing a water crisis.
“The issue of water security touches all creation and all humanity,” said Bishop Ray Schultz, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. “Water is a sacred gift.”
Water also has a special significance to Christians, he said. “As Christians we feel a moral obligation to ensure that this resource is publicly or co-operative controlled.”
Other participants cited the contamination in recent years of the water supplies of Walkerton, Ont., and North Battleford, Sask., to show the precariousness of the country’s water supply.
Another speaker, Elizabeth Eilor, a director of the African Women’s Economic Policy Network (AWEPON) in Uganda, said that for African women, water is an issue of life and death. “It’s not uncommon to go to the communities in Africa and find children starving because their mothers have spent half the day looking for water,” she said. “It’s not unheard of to hear that a child has been swallowed by a python in Zimbabwe because the mother had to keep the child by a tree as she looked for water; it’s not unheard of to see children dropping out of school because they have to help their mothers find water.”
Children and entire families are being “wiped out” because of cholera and typhoid and “so many water-borne diseases,” she said.
“And yet we are living in a continent where fresh water is not a problem,” Ms. Eilor said. “Uganda has a very large water source but it’s going into hands of the multinational organizations because of what is a supposedly efficient and effective way of delivering services to the poor.”
As part of the campaign launch, the church leaders released a pastoral statement in which they “note with alarm the increasing pressure on our governments to entrust management of our water systems to private corporations, and to permit profit-making exports of fresh water.”
The statement added that, “Assuring access to sufficient, clean water is at heart not so much a commercial matter as a moral and spiritual one. Any denial of access to water represents a lack of respect for God’s creation and lack of concern for basic human needs.”
Art Babych is editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the diocese of Ottawa.