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SAFCEI faith leaders believe that governments should be charged with crimes against humanity when their citizens do not have access to clean, safe water.

This was the overwhelming result of a poll conducted during our final Regional Interfaith Dialogue for 2021, hosted virtually on 7 December and attended by 32 faith leaders from the Southern African region.

The event was timed to support the UN International Human Rights Day on December 10, and falls into the 16 days of Activism because data shows that women and children are most affected by lack of access to clean, safe water and often have to walk many kilometres, daily, to collect water in buckets.

Opening speaker, Dr Shelley Ostroff from Jerusalem shared the Global Alliance for a World Water Law, the first global initiative of Codes for a Healthy Earth. Dr. Ostroff has developed a unique, holistic approach to human and whole-system healing and transformation that includes evolving blueprints for a new form of global eco-governance. She reflects how different our lives would be if humanity were to focus on restoring right relationship with Water as the foundation for our collective social and ecological regeneration. The proposal for the World Water Law prioritizes the uncompromising protection and healing of all planetary Waters as a unifying action for all governments and all of humanity. This entails the healing of the planetary water cycle, ensuring all humans and animals have guaranteed access to natural uncontaminated water, and holding all corporations, governments groups and individuals fully accountable for our impact on all Waters everywhere.

Our Climate Justice Coordinator, Gabriel Manyangadze unpacked the meaning and scope of human rights as defined by the United Nations. He told the gathering that human rights are inherent to the dignity of every human, and that these rights are all equal – no one right is more important than any other. The UN understanding of human rights is designed to govern the relationship between humans as they live in community, and between people and the state.

With this background, we explored the various faith perspectives on water as a human right. 

Dr Huda Yussuf, the Presidentially appointed Chair of Zanzibar Social Security Fund, presented the Islamic perspective saying that Islam’s third Pillar, Zakat (charity) teaches that the gift of water is one of the best forms of charity. Water is regarded as the Source of Life and the Gift of Life, and is greeted with deep gratitude. 

Reverend Shaun Cozett of St Paul’s Anglican Church in Cape Town presented the Christian perspective, emphasising the role of water in many Biblical stories. He spoke of water as being central to many sacred rituals. The sanctity of water as a gift of life should be reflected in our lives, every day.

Patricia Ngwena is a doctoral candidate at the University of the Western Cape, with academic interests spanning the intersection between land degradation, African theologies, cultural anthropology and African indigene’s lifeworlds with respect to ecology. Representing the African Traditional perspective, Patricia also spoke about the role of water as a sacred resource in African Traditional rituals. The African Traditional perspective emphasises common responsibility, privilege and interconnectedness. She said: “Water cannot be an individual resource. It is a resource for the community. It is essential collective survival.”

By Rev Berry Behr, SAFCEI’s Faith Leader Liaison

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