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Water: a gift of God, a public good and a human right. Should we privatize it?

The fourth reflection of the seven weeks for water 2020 of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network is by Rev. Dr. Donald Bruce Yeates, a minister of Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church of Suva, Fiji and a consultant chaplain at The University of the South Pacific.
Water: a gift of God, a public good and a human right. Should we privatize it?

Photo: The Fiji Times

The fourth reflection of the seven weeks for water 2020 of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network is by Rev. Dr. Donald Bruce Yeates, a minister of Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church of Suva, Fiji and a consultant chaplain at The University of the South Pacific. Bruce has been active in the Pacific since 1975 as an academic in social work, community development and social policy having served at the University of Papua New Guinea and The University of the South Pacific. In the following  reflection he underlines the importance of human right to water and the onslaught of privatisation in the backdrop of  world’s most famous bottled water which comes from his home country, the “Fiji waters”.

Text: Psalm 42: 1-3, 11 (NRSV)

Reflection

The Psalmist longs for God’s gift to everyone and everything, flowing streams to quench their thirst – both physical and spiritual. Feeling forgotten and forlorn they cry out for living Water, as their tears have been their only sustenance day and night. This might be the plight and cry of more than 4.8 million people in the Pacific region who cannot access improved water supplies[1].  This 2015 data may well have increased as we hear the voices raised in concern of sea water contaminating safe drinking water due to rise in sea levels in the atolls and islands of Pacific countries.

The United Nations General Assembly recognizes sanitation and access to safe drinking water as basic human rights. Goal 6 ‘Clean water and sanitation’ of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) notes that “…due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene. Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world.”[2]

Pacific country governments in subscribing to the resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals have in principle stated that they would provide the resources needed to ensure that their populations would have access to safe drinking water.  Fiji’s 2013 Constitution Chapter 2 - Bill of Rights, Section 36 - Right to adequate food and water[3], provides a qualified right to every person to have adequate quantities of clean and safe water. The guarantee of this ‘human right’ is dependent on available government resources and in the event that a community does not have adequate clean and safe water, the government need only provide an explanation as to why the resources are not available.

Now contrast the above with the world’s most famous bottled water advertisement, of course the FIJI WATERS - “It begins as a cloud, High above Fiji over 1,600 miles from the nearest continent. Tropical rain falls purified by equatorial trade winds. In a pristine rain forest surrounded by ancient, dormant volcanoes. Slowly filtered by volcanic rock it gathers minerals and electrolytes that create ….[now wait for it] … FIJI Water’s soft, smooth taste. Collecting in a sustainable, artesian aquifer, protected and preserved naturally from external elements, Earth’s finest water® bottled at the source, untouched by man, until you unscrew the cap.”[4]

Looking at the fine print at the bottom of Fiji Water web pages we see: “©2020 FIJI Water Company LLC. All Rights Reserved. FIJI, EARTH'S FINEST, EARTH'S FINEST WATER, EARTH'S FINEST FOR FITNESS, UNTOUCHED BY MAN, the Trade Dress and accompanying logos are trademarks of FIJI Water Company LLC or its affiliates.”

Further reading and investigation reveals that the current Trade Mark owners are Paramount International Export, Ltd. based in Los Angeles , California, USA. Where government fails to provide the resources for safe clean water, consumers may for Fiji dollars 2.95 at the local supermarket purchase a plastic bottle containing one litre of ‘Earth’s Finest Water’.

And so we are faced with a dilemma, water - a gift of God free to everyone and everything has been extracted, bottled in plastic containers and sold for profit to consumers. The UN and Pacific and other governments have tried to mitigate and regulate the privatisation of water through qualified human rights resolutions and forms of legislation.

May our hope in God be that our prayers be for divine guidance in ensuring that we become strong and active advocates for the right of everyone and everything to have adequate quantities of safe and potable water.

Questions for discussion:

1. In your local church and community context what is the source of everyone’s water supply? Who owns and controls the water supply?

2. Within the households of your community, what is the source of income, who controls the spending of the household money, and what human and financial resources are needed to ensure that the members of the household have adequate quantities of safe water?

Action

1. In your local congregation incorporate God’s gift to everyone - safe and potable water, in one’s preaching, Sunday school lessons, Women’s and Youth ministries and Bible study sessions.

2. Encourage your local church leadership to be advocates of safe and potable water for everyone. Establish linkages with local health and school authorities who may be in a position to provide your church with information on actions that may be taken to ensure sustainable, affordable and adequate quantities of safe and potable water.

3. Say no to bottled water. Be a blue community https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/joining-blue-communities-wcc-turns-from-bottles-to-taps

Resources

1. United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 6 Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. 10 January 2020, Electronic access: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/

2. Constitution of the Republic of Fiji, 2013, Chapter 2 Bill of Rights Section 36 - Right to adequate food and water. http://www.paclii.org/fj/Fiji-Constitution-English-2013.pdf



[1] World Health Organization, 2016. Sanitation, drinking-water and health in Pacific island countries : 2015 update and future outlook, p. X. Electronic access: https://apps.who.int › iris › rest › bitstreams › retrieve

[2] United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 6 Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. 10 January 2020, Electronic access: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/water-and-sanitation/

[3] Constitution Of The Republic Of Fiji, 2013, Chapter 2 Bill of Rights Section 36 - http://www.paclii.org/fj/Fiji-Constitution-English-2013.pdf

[4] Fiji Water https://www.fijiwater.com/pages/the-water