Water of Life
World Water Day March 22 affirms clean water as a human right.
How many of your special memories take place alongside water? Casting a fishing line into a lake with a grandparent, splashing in the waves with cousins, leaping through a sprinkler with friends, taking in a sunset on a shoreline. The earth’s waters point to the glory of God. Take a moment and look at photographs of Can Cristales River in Columbia, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Mekong River in Southeast Asia, Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, or turquoise Peyto Lake in Alberta.
Beyond the beauty of the earth’s water, the importance of clean water is something all humans understand. Twenty percent of the world’s freshwater is contained in Canada’s rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands. We need water for survival and also for everyday life like cooking, cleaning, agriculture and even flushing the toilet. Water is vital for survival.
We find the importance of water in Scripture, too. The prophet Amos lived in a time of economic prosperity. The rich forgot their call and oppressed the poor. “The Lord, the Lord God Almighty says . . . Let justice roll like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:16, 24). Aligning one’s heart to the example of Jesus’ care for others was equated with living water.
For many people in the world access to clean water is a life or death situation. According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, 2.1 billion people lack safely managed drinking sources. Every day, 600 children die due to diarrhea caused by unsafe water or poor sanitation. Globally, women are put in compromising situations as they walk for clean water daily, missing opportunities for education and employment. There are 263 transboundary lakes and river basins. Countries sometimes disagree about equitable water allocation. War and conflict hinder access to clean water to people groups.
Changes in climate that bring about drought and weather extremes also contribute to access to clean water. Poor infrastructure makes access precarious, as we saw during the Flint Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan in the United States. Since 2015, California has experienced periodic mandatory statewide restrictions of water usage. Many First Nations communities in Canada have long-term boil-water advisories due to inadequate treatment facilities.
When demand for clean water exceeds earth’s ability to provide it for everyone, we find ourselves facing water scarcity. Citizens in the developed nations are not used to facing depleted resources and the challenges that would bring. Clean water access is an important justice issue of our time.
Where need arises, there is also hope. We can learn about innovation and conservation efforts. In response, as people of faith, we have the capacity to contribute to efforts committed to clean water accessibility to everyone.
START AT HOME
We can begin with personal consumption. Work as a family to identify all the ways you use water throughout the day. Name all the places where you can access water in your home. Brainstorm ways you can conserve water: use reusable water bottles, reuse water for outdoor watering, purchase high-efficiency appliances, check for leaky faucets and inefficient toilets, harvest rainwater and consume less electricity. Make one water source in your home off-limits for a day. Talk about how it feels have to go out of your way to access water. How do you use water differently if it takes more time and effort to access it? How can your family use water in a way that honours God?
Expand to local water conservation efforts. Find an organization in your community that practices conservation to support. Take time to clean up areas of water access near to you. Commit to drinking just water for a set amount of time and donate the money you would have spent for coffee, juice or other drinks to an organization that supports clean water. Educate your neighbours. Celebrate World Water Day on March 22 each year. Make water conservation a way of life in your community.
Finally, look outward to the global world to nonprofits addressing access to clean water. Blood:Water does amazing work training grassroots leaders in the areas they work. The Last Well brings together organizations working toward clean water in Liberia. Splash studies water systems of international businesses and hotels and replicates those systems in places lacking clean water. Life:Straw is a straw-like filter to purify water. The Hippo Roller allows people to transport water with greater efficiency. WaterAid works in 35 different countries bringing clean water and sanitation. Explore nonprofit organizations committed to clean water access.
Perhaps we can also learn from First Nation elders. The children’s book The Water Walker, tells the story of Ojibwe Grandmother Josephine Mandamin. She has walked around all the Great Lakes, over 10,000 miles, reminding others to protect water for future generations. Mandamin and others who joined her became known as the Mother Earth Walkers. Educating others about water scarcity, pollution and conservation expands the impact of our efforts.
Jeremiah 2:13 says, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cistern, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” A cistern is a tank for holding water. A cracked cistern is useless because water leaks out and soaks into the earth, where it can’t be used. When we think about only ourselves, the less we think about the people God has put in our lives. Our world becomes narrow and focused inward. Our love for others leaks out, and we become much like a cracked cistern, dried up and unusable. When our hearts are filled with love for Jesus, we become a fountain of living water. Our love overflows, and we can offer it up to others.
When we help others – working to give them access to clean water – they can also know the living water of hope that is Jesus.