The International Reference Group (IRG) of the Ecumenical Water Network (EWN), the water justice initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held its annual meeting in Malawi as the UN revealed that 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water.
Co-chaired by Rev. Arnold Temple of Sierra Leone and Andrea Muller-Frank, Right to Food officer at Bread for the World (Germany), the group met in Blantyre, Malawi, from 19-23 July.
The IRG provided the WCC-EWN with advice on its strategic planning for 2018 and 2019, including plans to build capacity in the churches to monitor national progress on achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals and promoting the human right to clean water and adequate sanitation.
The meeting occurred shortly after the UN Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) released its 2017 report, “Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene.” The JMP report indicates that 2.1 billion people do not yet have access to safely-managed drinking water and that 60% of the world’s population, over 4.4 billion people, do not have safely-managed sanitation.
That report reveals how much work remains to be done to assure every human being has access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene.
The drinking water figure of 2.1 billion sharply contrasts with widely-circulated UN figures indicating less than 700 million people still lacked an improved source of water.
The measure the UN has now adopted, which requires an improved source to be within a 30-minute walk and to be safely managed to avoid fecal contamination, is a far more realistic measure of the number of people who still lack safe drinking water.
The IRG also formulated plans to intensify WCC-EWN’s current international advocacy efforts for universal access to clean water and sanitation and to expand its advocacy efforts on behalf of the human right to water for food and livelihoods of local communities as well as water to protect ecosystems.
The UN currently estimates that 884 million lack access to an improved water supply within a 30-minute walk and that at least 1.2 billion more people use an improved water supply that is not safely managed, resulting in fecal contamination of their drinking water.
Just as the meeting commenced, Lilongwe, Malawi’s capitol city, experienced fecal contamination of its drinking water system, which highlights the widespread problem of contamination of drinking water supplies around the globe. A major sewer pipe broke in an area of the city, contaminating the drinking water being supplied by the city’s water system with sewage. This situation required Malawian government authorities to issue warnings that the city’s drinking water must be boiled before it is used. However, the government failed to alert the affected people well in advance and as a result many have consumed contaminated water.
Globally more than 1000 children die every day due to diarrhea caused by contaminated water. Affected residents of the capital city of Malawi have joined the 2.1 billion people around the world who lack safe drinking water. WCC condemned this unfortunate event of water contamination in the media. (Daily Times, Malawi, 24 July)
The WCC-EWN will be intensifying its advocacy efforts over the next two years to assure that governments around the world are held accountable to meet their responsibility to provide safe, affordable, accessible, acceptable and good quality drinking water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene facilities for all – giving priority to the most vulnerable populations.
The IRG of the WCC-EWN met in the sidelines of the WCC-Eco School, which started in Blantyre from 24 July 2017 with 27 youths from 20 countries in Africa.