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Seven weeks of Lent highlight water crisis in Africa

Seven weeks of Lent highlight water crisis in Africa

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the prayer service in St Mary's cathedral in Addis Ababa. © Ivars Kupcis/WCC

01 March 2017

With an ecumenical prayer service on Ash Wednesday in St Mary’s (Sealite Mihret) cathedral of the Ethiopian Orthodox church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) began its annual Lenten campaign “Seven Weeks for Water”. This year during Lent it will raise awareness of water justice issues in Africa.

“Water, the source of life and a gift from God, has yet become the issue of justice”, said moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Dr Agnes Abuom at the service.  “As we stop here, in the capital of Africa, we know that the water crisis here falls heavily on women and children, who are walking miles and miles to look for a water. On behalf of World Council of Churches, I invite everyone to resist commodification and commercialization of water at the expense of poor people.”

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said, in his sermon, “It is time for water justice. It is time for us who are here and all human beings to stop resisting justice. We cannot in the long run stop justice, as we cannot stop the water”.
Tveit reflected on Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”. The prophet Amos uses the image of water to speak something clearly and strongly about the justice of God, and this is one of the most encouraging, motivating and hopeful verses of the Bible for the many people yearning for justice and recognition of their rights as human beings.”

He added: “The images of waters of the prophet Amos are both the overwhelming power and the ever-flowing stream. It is irresistible, it will come, either way. This is the character of the justice and righteousness of God: for some a threat, for some a liberation.”

While water has a strong spiritual significance in the Christian tradition as a gift of God, this scarce resource is threatened and denied to millions around the world. About half of the world’s population without access to safe drinking water and about one third of world’s population without access to adequate sanitation facilities come from sub-Saharan Africa.

“This year the WCC’s pilgrimage of justice and peace has its regional focus on Africa, and accordingly, the Seven Weeks for Water in 2017 will take us on a pilgrimage of water justice in this continent”, explains Rt Rev. Arnold C. Temple, co-chair of the EWN. The Biblico-theological reflections and resources for the seven weeks will be based on the water crisis in the Africa region and explore the issues of justice and peace.”

Dinesh Suna, coordinator of the EWN, said this is the 10th year the EWN has been providing weekly theological reflections and other resources on water for the seven weeks of Lent. Reflections, liturgies and other resources will be uploaded to the EWN website every week, starting 1 March.

This year the reflections on water and sanitation will focus on inequality, stigma and discrimination related to water, and feminization of water poverty in the context of Africa, among others.

In the first reflection Rev. Dr Benebo Fubara Fubara-Manuel, president of the Christian Council of Nigeria writes: “Human efforts to make water available for all must be seen as God’s work through humans, and taken on in this understanding of its sacredness. Even though water is already recognized by the United Nations as a human right, let us pray that God will open our eyes to see many parts of the world, where water is not yet understood as a basic human need”.

The Lenten campaign was started on the sidelines of the 54th Meeting of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, taking place in the capital of Ethiopia from 27 February to 1 March.


Facts and figures

According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP):

  • around 663 million people are without access to safe drinking water
  • 1 in 3 people, or 2.4 billion, are without improved sanitation facilities.
  • the JMP report indicates, a  vast majority of the above live in sub Saharan Africa region:
  • 319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are without access to improved reliable drinking water sources.
  • 695 million of a global 2.4 billion people living without improved sanitation facilities live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • women and girls are responsible for water collection in seven out of ten households in 45 developing countries.

Seven Weeks for Water

Sermon by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit