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Week 8: Young perspectives

10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. 11 They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
16 The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17 There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees.
(Psalm 104: 10-11; 16-17)

Water, God\'s gift to sustain life, not only given for humans but also for the animals and plants. When I think about water in my context I think about rivers, rain, ocean, snow, ice, lakes, streams, waterfalls and dew. I also think about the responsibility required to take care of these gifts. We are not always responsible. I think of the street cleaning machines that use clean water to wash the paved streets. I think of people watering grass around their house so it is green and looks nice.

I think of the Cheslatta T\'en, Indigenous Carrier people from north-central British Columbia who have been displaced by the development of a dam on the Nechako River. This land which since time immemorial has been the sustenance and home of the people. After World War II the demand for aluminum was growing. But aluminum needs to be smelted and the energy to be provided for the new production plant was to come from a hydroelectric dam. Not just any dam, but the largest sloping, rock-filled clay-core dam in the world! By the 1950s, the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan) was given water rights to the Nechako River and support from the government to build the dam. This has transformed not only the flow of the river and volume of surrounding lakes, but the temperature of the waters thereby endangering the salmon and other fish (see footnote 1).

In other parts of the world too, large dam constructions force people to move away from their homes and traditional lands, giving up their livelihoods. Dams have also threatened the habitat of animals when the flow of the river changes and floods the land. One such example is the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada River in India. Arundhati Roy writes about the reasons the Indian government is interested to build the dam and subsequent consequences for the local population who are forced to migrate because of the construction and the flooding river. \"Suddenly they can\'t trust their river anymore. It\'s like a loved one who has developed symptoms of psychosis. Anyone who has loved a river can tell you that the loss of a river is a terrible, aching thing.\" (see footnote 2)

Who has the right to take water away? Who has the right to change a river? Who has the right to monopolize on or contaminate that which has been entrusted to us all?

I have asked three young people I know about their thoughts and work on water issues.

Angelious has been involved in the youth program of WCC and is currently a member of the Education & Ecumenical Formation Commission. He is an active leader in his church in India especially on ecological issues:

\"We recently had a work camp on the theme \"Youth and Nature\" in one of the most remote places of Koraput district surrounded by hills and mountains. 11 Tribal and Dalit Youth participated and we spent a week helping the tribal people in their daily work trying to understand their struggle. One of the struggles the community faces is access to clean water. The community themselves generate electricity from the available water recourse there which is not really drinkable.

One of the important parts of our camp was evening devotion and we choose Psalm 104 for daily reflection. It is written there that wild animals shall drink water from the stream/river, which is natural. The youth put their thoughts into it and related it to water privatization. It becomes a right of the animals to drink water from the stream when they are thirsty.

How do we make youth aware of water issues? Bottled water has become a common phenomenon here and those who can afford to buy it can avail it but not all. When the tribal peoples go to the town they have to buy the cheaper water packets and studies have shown that these water packets are not safe to drink but the people have no other options because water sources are privatized. Hardly any public water points are there. Some of the key water and water related issues we are addressing as part of our WATER CAMPAIGN in India is
1. Water right as Human right
2. Clean and Safe Water for All
3. Water - A gift and not a Commodity\"

From Mutua, who participated in an ecumenical formation program for young people at WCC, has a background in science and is preparing for World Water Day:

\"There are many elements on earth that are important but water is a bit more special. It is paramount to the beginning of life and to life itself. Here on earth God created the waters first, this is if you look at it in a Religious context, but even in a scientific context water is the first fundamental element on earth. It is fundamental because in the presence of water life is created. This is why we look for water on other planets because it is not only a symbol for life but is also vital for life. It is essential to the creation and continuation of life. When I look at it in this sense I have more respect for water.\"

My friend Wade, works for the United Church of Canada and has a background in theatre. With his artistic talents and passion for social and ecological justice he has created a theatre play performed for churches and communities in Canada to raise awareness about water and to support a project he has started:

\"The first rainwater-harvesting tanks are full of water and being used! Two large tanks (75,000L) are providing clean drinking water for all students at the school. One smaller tank (10,000L) is completed in each of the two villages that share the school, Adexor and Adexor-Kpodzi, Ghana. The WATER project.ca is directed by Nathaniel Amann-Blake and Wade Lifton on Canada\'s west coast. Nathaniel earned a masters degree in environmental policy from the University of Oxford and works in the field of environmental assessment. Our project manager, Eric Chimsi, is an expert in rainwater harvesting who was trained by a team from Kenya and now educates others about rainwater harvesting in Ghana and other parts of the continent. Christian Keteni is our project coordinator, overseeing the ongoing details of construction, maintenance and community facilitation. Christian grew up in Adexor, trained in construction and now owns a pharmacy in the nearby town of Mepe. The residents of Adexor have expressed great pride and confidence that a leader from their community is coordinating this project.\"

Together we can make a difference:

Read the Indigenous Declaration on Water, which was written at the Third World Water Forum, in Kyoto, Japan, March 2003.
Reflect on the following questions with others in your church or ecumenical group:

  • What is your relationship to water?
  • How is water used in your community? What animals and plants also rely on the water sources in your area?
  • Are there dam projects in your country? If so where are they built and what have been the results (positive and negative)?
  • If there are negative consequences (such as ecological damage, flooding, displacement of people, limited access for people to use water) write a letter to your local and national government with your church about your concerns.

Links:

Kairos Canada work on water:
www.kairoscanada.org/e/ecology/water/reflectionWater.asp  
www.kairoscanada.org/e/ecology/water/wonderFreshWater.asp  

\"The Greater Common Good\" by Arundhati Roy is about the Sardar Sarovar dam: http://www.narmada.org/gcg/gcg.html  

For more information about the dam on Nechako River: www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/sg/sg40_e.html

The WATER project.ca a Canadian-Ghanaian initiative: www.thewaterproject.ca

Footnotes:
1 - The Cheslatta T\'en and the Kemano Hydro Project. Indian and Northern Affairs Cananda. 2006/02/08. www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/sg/sg40_e.html
2 - Roy, Arundhati. The Greater Common Good. 1999/03/24. www.narmada.org/gcg/gcg.html

Natalie Maxson, World Council of Churches,
with contributions from Angelious Michael, Mutua Kobia, & Wade Lifton.

Posted By: Ecumenical Water Network on Mar 20, 2008 06:20PM