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Dealing with our own sewage: A Jordan River perspective

While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan. (Joshua 3:15-17)

Dealing with our own sewage: A Jordan River perspective

The cholera crisis in Zimbabwe is a chilling illustration of the crucial link between water, sanitation, health and political responsibility.  By the middle of February 2009, the WHO noted that over 70,000 people were infected and 3,524 had died. 

We all live downstream

Cholera is a clear indication that economics and ecology are deeply integrated, and that water is at the intersection of the two.  The economic system, via industry, agriculture, and the human impact upon climate change is placing huge stress on our water resources, and in turn these diminishing resources impact severely upon the quality of life of the poor and marginalized.

This should not surprise us.  The Greek word for home or household is oikos.  Our words economy and ecology both come from that word.  Economy is oikos-nomos, rules of the household.  Ecology is oikos-logos, wisdom of the household.  We inhabit one household, the globe.  From a water perspective "we all live downstream".

This link between economy and ecology is usually missing from our theological models.  Liberation theologies focus on the Exodus tradition, and are concerned with economics and poverty.  Creation theologies focus on the Genesis tradition, and are concerned with ecology and the environment.  Isolated from the each other, these theologies miss the fact that "we all live downstream".  We need to find a theological vision that integrates them.

A Jordan River perspective

Here I think a Jordan River perspective is helpful.  It points to the People of Israel as they are about to enter the Land of Promise.  They are people of the Exodus, liberated from slavery.  But now they are not just free.  They are about to take on the responsibility of creating a society that honours both humanity and the earth.  This is, after all, a land that will flow with milk and honey for generations to come.

A Jordan River perspective also reminds us of the strong links that the bible has to water.  The Jordan river flows from life (Sea of Gailiee) to death, (Dead Sea).  It reminds us that human choices are taken between these two options, connecting economics and ecology, the Passover Festival (liberation) with the Festival of Weeks (creation).

Such a perspective cannot be a legitimation of the modern state of Israel or other imperial projects, for it is rooted in the Deuteronomic code of justice for the widow, the alien and the oppressed.

Indeed the Jordan River perspective holds together economics and ecology, recognizing that "we all live downstream".  It is a reminder that freedom is worth nothing for the poor if we cannot deal with sewage.

Steve de Gruchy

Steve de Gruchy is Professor of Theology and Development, and Head of the School of Religion and Theology, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.  He has been involved for many years in the ecumenical movement in South African and globally with a particular focus on issues of social justice and community engagement.

Together we can make a difference…

"Don't forget to flush" - that is what those of us who have had the luxury of growing up with a toilet in the house have been taught. But our "flush-and-forget" mentality is causing many troubles, not just by causing blockages but also by polluting increasingly scarce water resources.

  • Cooking oil, food scraps, cotton buds? Make a list of the things you have disposed of in your sink or in your toilet in the past week!
  • Read our "Don't flush and forget!" recommendations and think about whether there is something you could do better in the future.
  • Why not make a bird cake from your left-over cooking oil? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has instructions for children and adults.

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Foto: Ajay Tallam

Posted By: Steve de Gruchy on Mar 04, 2009 08:44AM