From Durban in South Africa to Busan in South Korea, water must be high on the agenda of international summits, conferences and church assemblies, according to participants in the Ecumenical Water Network Forum.

More than 20 activists gathered in Nairobi, Kenya from Oct. 25-27 for the forum, which meets once every three-and-a-half years. They collaborated in shaping a three-year action plan that sets directions for this church-related global network on water.

Clean, safe and sustainable water remains a rare commodity for billions of people in our world, noted the forum’s participants. They pressed for movement beyond mere recognition of a human right to water, calling for the actual implementation of this right as well as the establishment of adequate means of sanitation for all.

The network formally came into being at the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) at Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006 and was given a mandate to report back to the 10th Assembly of the WCC at Busan, Korea from Oct. 30-Nov. 8, 2013.

Among the remaining landmarks on the way to Busan are the Conference of Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting at Durban in late November and early December 2011 and the “Rio + 20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, marking the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit (Rio, 1992).

The Ecumenical Water Network joins other international groups at such events in advocating for fair and eco-friendly practices and policies, especially in the context of the controversial “green economy” approach.

The network also provides annual devotional resources for the Christian season of Lent, “7 Weeks for Water”, used in many churches during the period from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week. The materials for 2012 have as their theme the “blue economy” envisioned in support of clean and plentiful water for everyone.

A sustainable and just availability of water

Maike Gorsboth, coordinator of the network, expressed concern that so much of the international discussion of a “green economy” focuses on matters of water efficiency and market-based incentives for promoting this efficiency,” she said. “Economic mechanisms should not restrict control over, and access to, water on the part of small-scale farmers or marginalized communities. Principles underlying the availability of water must be both sustainable and just.”

The Rev. André Karamaga, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, told the forum in an opening address that access to water “is a fundamental right that human beings should willingly and graciously allow one another to enjoy.”

Dinesh Suna, co-chair of the network’s international reference group, noted that the forum in Nairobi “has put us in a firm place” to make mid-course adjustments in the journey from the 9th to the 10th assemblies of the WCC.

According to Suna, the network’s members feel energized because the United Nations has now recognized access to clean water and sanitation as a human right, which has been a central goal in the network’s advocacy work.

“From recognition” of the human right to water, said Suna, “we now move to implementation of the rights to water and sanitation. As a network, we also shall try to branch out to other links, like water and food, water and energy, water policy and climate change.”

New resources for congregations, means of interpreting water ethics, economic implications of eco-justice and the right to water, were envisioned by participants. A publication called “Water briefs for the pew” is being developed under the leadership of U.S. law professor Susan Lea Smith of Willamette University and Rommel F. Linatoc of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

The network will also send delegates, facilitators and resource materials to several upcoming global, environmental and church-sponsored conferences dealing with climate change and other key ecological issues.