dws-giwa-launch-crystal-ball-river-water-770px-1Religious heads from around the world, joined by the Executive Director of UNICEF and representatives of many organizations officially launched the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), an alliance of leaders of faith working together to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to people of the world.  

The aim of GIWA alliance is to harness the great power and influence of the world’s interfaith leaders of faith in effecting significant and positive change in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene and helping to achieve these crucial Millennium Development Goals.

River water gathered in crystal globe
The launch in New York on 25 September included a sacred water ceremony in which the leaders offered water, gathered from 20 rivers across the world, to a beautiful crystal globe, representing the world (see top photo).

The ceremony was symbolic of the union of the leaders of many of the world’s religions in their commitment to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to the world.

Preventing water-related illnesses
The leaders of The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) agree that it is no longer enough for religious leaders to exhort their followers not to bomb, shoot or stab each other. Rather, now, the definition of peace must be expanded to include not only freedom from deaths by bombs, guns and knives but also freedom from deaths by preventable water and sanitation-related illnesses.

Permitting our brothers and sisters to die from preventable diarrhea or other illnesses due to unsanitary conditions is also violence and must not be condoned by our religions.

Leaders present at the launch ceremony included its two co-founders Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp (Jacob Soetendorp Institute) and Swami Chidanand Saraswati (Parmarth Niketan and Founder of Ganga Action Parivar). Other leaders were Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi (Imam of India), Sister Karen Schneider (Religious Sister of Mercy) and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati (Divine Shakti Foundation).

dws-giwa-launch-saraswatiji-soetendorp-ilyasiji-350pxCo-founders Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp (middle) and Swami Chidanand Saraswati (left) during the launch, together with Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi (right)

Clean water for every child
Said Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp: "We are called to sanctify time and dedicate the next 7 years, every hour, every second to the provision of clean water and improved sanitation. Living water will be in reach of the whole community of life and thus hope will propel us to action. When I was a young child, people saved me and took care of me. Now, I have dedicated my life to making sure that every child is cared for, particularly that they have clean, safe water to drink.”

Time to come foward together
Said Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji:  “The borders and boundaries that we think separate us only illusory. We are not separate. We are one. So when our brothers and sisters are suffering due to lack of water, sanitation and hygiene, it is our responsibility to help them. Water is life and everyone has the right to life.  We have already lost too many precious lives due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation. It is time for us all to come forward together.”

Spread the message
Said Imam Ilyasi: “The All India Imams Organization will spread the message to all of its 550,000 imams across India, the largest Imams Organization in the world, and they will then spread to their followers about the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene. We will train the Imams of India to spread this important message. We need to work also with the women because the women spread the message to the whole family so they are a very important part of our program.”

GIWA envisions a water-secure world in which safe and sustainable drinking water and improved sanitation will be accessible to all by the year 2020. An estimated 5 billion people across the world are members of religious communities, underscoring the critical role religious leaders can play in addressing seemingly intractable problems - such as access to safe water and sanitation.  

The seed for the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance was planted earlier this year at a multi-stakeholder dialogue held in The Hague in advance of the World Water Day celebrations.

This news item was originally published on the website of Global Interfaith WASH Alliance.

More information
Global Interfaith WASH Alliance
c/o Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values