St Paul's Cathedral joins network promoting water awareness and action

Melbourne Anglicans' mother church is to put a Lenten focus on water justice around UN World Water Day in March

JustWater aims to promote awareness and action about issues including water scarcity and usage.

By Mark Brolly and ACNS

February 9 2017Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral has joined three other prominent Anglican churches worldwide as principal partners in JustWater, a program to promote awareness and justice about water issues, such as access to clean water and sanitation, drought, flooding and rising tides.

JustWater has been organised to coincide with the United Nations’ annual World Water Day, on 22 March, and with the Church’s season of Lent. It will start on Ash Wednesday, 1 March.

Between 21 and 24 March, St Paul’s is to host a performance marking the 300th anniversary of Handel’s Water Music, a Comedy Debate, a panel of experts discussing issues including water and food production and cultural issues around water, plus aid groups talking about access to clean water and the value of international aid.

The other principal partners in JustWater are London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City and St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. Other partners include the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, St Mary-le-Bow church in London, All We Can (the Methodist relief and development agency in Britain), the US interfaith environmental organisation GreenFaith and the All Party Parliamentary Water Group at Westminster.

The Precentor of St Paul’s, the Revd Canon Heather Patacca, said the Cathedral became involved when the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, asked her to speak to Ms Barbara Ridpath, Director of the St Paul’s Institute in London – which seeks to foster an informed Christian response to the most urgent ethical and spiritual issues of our times such as equality, stewardship and the meaning of the common good – when she was in London in 2015. Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral was invited to take part in the JustWater initiative as a southern hemisphere partner.

“We are certainly chuffed to be included, and other churches in Australia are welcome to sign up as partners and mark the UN-declared World Water Day with their own programs,” Canon Patacca said.

“For many of us access to fresh water is something we take for granted, unlike those who walk half a day to draw water from a well or stream,” she told the Anglican Communion News Service. “Nothing exists without water. Water raises issues of justice and equity but looks different in each local context.”

The Dean of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, the Very Revd David Ison, said: “How we deal with water shows how much we value one another. The Church working around the world in partnership, to share resources and raise awareness of water-related issues, is a sign of how humanity can achieve together for the benefit of all what we cannot do on our own.”

Ms Ridpath expressed the hope that JustWater would encourage other congregations around the world to do something for World Water Day in March or to undertake one of the Lenten studies that were available.

“The entire intention of the program is twofold: firstly, to leverage resources so that more cathedrals and churches can engage without ‘reinventing the wheel’, adapting the program to their locally specific issues around water, and secondly, to demonstrate that we can have greater impact when we speak with one voice.”

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town said at the launch of JustWater in London on 6 February that as a result of diminished rainfall  over the past year, dams supplying water for Cape Town’s metropolitan area were only 29 percent full, with three months’ supply left.

“Our water crisis has had the effect of concentrating my mind on how precious water is and on how devastating the effects of scarcity can be,” he said.

Archbishop Makgoba said the problem of water supply and sanitation illustrated why South Africa was one of the most unequal countries in the world. Using the theme of “water justice”, he said the distribution of water was based on inequality.

“Many of the threats to water are coming from companies who pollute rivers with industrial pollution,” Archbishop Makgoba said. “We suffer a lot from acid mine drainage affecting our water systems. The shareholders of mining companies make a profit, but the local communities are left with water degradation. As a Church, we stand firmly against fracking, since for short-term profit there is a danger of water systems being polluted for decades. Large corporate farms are also responsible, as the run-off from artificial fertilisers and pesticides pollutes the rivers.”

Explaining why he had entitled his speech “Water is Life, Sanitation is Dignity,” Archbishop Makgoba said of South Africa: “Whereas one family waters their vast lawn and fills their swimming pool, another shares a single tap with 20 neighbours. Whereas one family has four bathrooms, another shares a communal toilet with dozens of people.”

He said poverty and power relations were reflected in who has access to control over water. “I have experienced this myself in the Kingdom of Lesotho, which has vast dams of water for South Africa, yet the country's own people are suffering severe water restrictions. In Lesotho, you bathe with a basin, yet when you travel to the neighbouring city of Bloemfontein, the taps run freely and the water sprinklers are keeping lawns green and the pools full.”

Archbishop Makgoba recommended that people remember that water is sacred, show greater care for oceans and rivers, reduce meat consumption because of the amount of water needed for livestock production and make fighting climate change their highest priority.