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The Lagos Message: A Pilgrimage of Water Justice in Africa

The Lagos Message: A Pilgrimage of Water Justice in Africa

Participants taking part in a prayer service, Lagos, Nigeria 2016

25 January 2017

We the participants of the Regional Consultation on Human Right to Water in Africa, organised by the Ecumenical Water Network of the World Council of Churches (WCC), representing member churches of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and also the WCC have gathered here in Lagos, Nigeria, hosted by the AACC and the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) from 27-29 November 2016 to discuss the theme “Pilgrimage of Water Justice towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. The CCN represents its 15 member churches who constitute some 40 million out of about 85 million Christians in Nigeria, or approximately 49% of the general population.

Faith affirmation:

The 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 2006 in Porto Alegre, Brazil adopted a "Statement on Water for Life".  It affirmed that “Water is a symbol of life…water as the cradle of life, an expression of God’s grace in perpetuity for the whole of creation (Gen 2:5ff). It is a basic condition for all life on Earth (Gen 1:2ff.) and is to be preserved and shared for the benefit of all creatures and the wider creation.”  The statement further affirms that “Water is a Human Right and a Common Public Good”.

Contextual analysis:

We realise that:

    • Access to safe water and, even more, access to improved adequate sanitation is a major challenge in the world.  Even after the declaration of water and sanitation as a human rights issue, today around 750 million people do not have access to safe drinking water, while close to 2 billion people have to drink contaminated water, and around 2.4 billion people (1 in every 3) do not have access to adequate and improved sanitation facilities.
    • Access to safe water and improved adequate sanitation are still major challenges in Africa, where millions of people do not have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities. Thousands of children die every day due to consumption of contaminated water and poor sanitation facilities.
    • Women and girls especially bear the burden of walking several kilometers to fetch water from streams and ponds which are mostly contaminated, with the consequence of water-related diseases in families. This affects the economic well-being of families as the time for economic engagements is wasted in searching of water and the meagre family income spent on medical treatment of sick family members at risk of dying.
    • Lack of adequate sanitation facilities at homes and schools also results in women being subjected to sexual violence, other security challenges and loss of school hours for girls particularly during their menstrual period.
    • We have seen the situation of the people who live in slums or in so-called "illegal settlements" in Lagos, when we traveled to Makoko, where more than 20,000 families are living in shanties, nearly in a swamp, and in very unhygienic conditions. The people here live on the water and, due to lack of sanitation facilities including toilets, they defecate, swim and fish in the same water. Government presence in this community is visibly absent in terms of the provision of social amenities and particularly with regards to providing water connections or sanitation facilities. Makoko is just one of the thousands of slums in Africa, which the government “washes its hands” from its moral responsibilities to develop those places, simply by labelling them as “illegal settlements.”
    • The water and sanitation situation are particularly critical in sub-Saharan countries in Africa, where countries could not achieve the water-related Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets in 2015.
    • With the launch of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 to succeed the MDGs, access to water and sanitation once again has come to the focus of the international community. However, existing social and economic inequities make it even harder to achieve the SDGs. Thus if "water and sanitation for all" are to be achieved, special attention needs to be paid to redress inequities early on, because general progress will not trickle down and benefit everyone. To that end, specific measures need to be put in place; otherwise, aggregate human development progress might occur at the expense of the most marginalised and vulnerable populations, thereby potentially exacerbating underlying inequalities.
    • Poor governance and corruption continue to be an impediment to the realisation of the human right to water and sanitation.
    • Human right to water does not mean that water that comes to your tap has to be free of cost. But the right to water must follow the five (5) normative contents of human rights framework of “sufficient, safe, accessibility, acceptability and affordability”.  Therefore, if some cannot afford it, we may have to provide water for free. Besides, water is the core of sustainable development and is critical for sustainable development and healthy ecosystems. Access to safe water is essential for human health and dignity, for food and energy, security and overall social progress.

Churches’ commitment to water and sanitation

    • In view of the foregoing and in view of the urgent need to increasing access to water and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa in general and Nigeria particularly:
    • Churches and faith-based organizations need to review their infrastructure framework with a water and sanitation lens and demonstrate their commitment to water justice by making sure that all their facilities have provision for access to water and sanitation for all.
    • Churches must sensitise communities through appropriate information, education and communication (IEC) materials on  water and sanitation issues with a view to ending open defecation practices and improved access to safe water and adequate and appropriate toilets.
    • There must be a deliberate effort targeted at ending the indiscriminate use of bottled and sachet water to protect the environment. Reusing and recycling of plastics should be encouraged to become a “blue community.”

Recommendations / appeals

To improve access to safe water and adequate sanitation:

Religious and community leaders must get actively involved in advocacy for implementation of the human right to water and sanitation.

Churches should be encouraged and able to participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of their countries in order to point out the human rights abuse, e.g. Benin and Ghana are slated for 2018 and Nigeria for 2019.

Churches should include water and sanitation rights in the curriculum of their schools and theological seminaries, in line with the model used by EDAN – the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network – on issues of disability.

Young people should rise up and be vanguards of change in the communities in order to safeguard their future and reduce the impact of preventable diseases in communities. Young people can encourage vulnerable family members by providing sanitation facilities at subsidised rates and/or free. They can participate actively in enforcing compliance of community-created action plans.

The churches and communities should be vigilant about multi-national corporations’ actions on pollution, land and water grabbing, which hinders realisation of the right to clean and safe water.

As part of the WCC Lenten campaign,  the Seven Weeks for water  in 2017, churches should focus on water during the period of Lent, and where possible take actions that will promote access to safe water and adequate sanitation facilities. Churches should make deliberate plans to include activities around water and sanitation in their calendars.

The International Reference Group on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace should continue to focus on  Pilgrimage of Water Justice, wherever they meet.

Religious leaders should, in collaboration with traditional leaders within their constituencies, organise workshops/seminars to create awareness of water and sanitation.

Church leaders should reach out to leaders of other faiths to engage in interfaith consultations, workshops/seminars to promote access and advocate for increased access to water and sanitation.

Churches should plan to celebrate World Water Day during Lent on 22 March and, later in the year, World Toilet Day on 19 November.

We pray that our Lord, the living water of life will bless us abundantly as we work towards fulfilling the will of God – for as much you give a drink to a thirsty, you do it to the Lord. (Math 25:40)

Statement Committee:

Rt. Rev. Arnold Temple
Mrs Ebun James-Dekam
Rev. (Amb.)  Kuzasuwat Ishaya Peter
Abel Divine Ogwuche
Ms Veronica Flachier