More and more poor people in Asia are being deprived of what was once seen as a free “God-given resource,” as water has become a paid-for asset controlled by private companies in recent years, say Asian church leaders.

“Now considered as a commercial commodity rather than as heritage and a natural resource that should be protected, water … is now being increasingly controlled by private corporations,” said the Rev. David Tabo-oy, evangelism officer of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church of the Philippines.

Tabo-oy was reflecting on “Water as a gift from God and as a human right” during the second day of a Nov. 28-Dec. 3 consultation on “communities’ rights to water and sanitation in Asia” held here. 
The consultation was organized by the World Council of Churches-supported Ecumenical Water Network, a water rights advocacy group, along with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
Citing data from the Philippine government’s National Water Resource Board, Tabo-oy said that 56.9 percent of the country’s fresh water resources or 3.3 million liters a second is used for power; 35 percent or 2.03 million liters a second, for irrigation; and only 3 percent or 171,000 liters a second, for domestic use. 

Most power generated from hydroelectric dams benefits big industries, asserted Tabo-oy.

As industries, agriculture and daily life are polluting water systems in China, people there now turn to commercial bottled water processed by big bottling companies, noted Tong Su of the Hong Kong office of the Amity Foundation, which is linked with churches in China.

Citing an independent survey, Su said the number of those who consume bottled water in Hong Kong has increased five times in the past four years. 

The demand for bottled water has led to big global corporations taking advantage of the privatization of the water supply in China and the cheap quality water resources from the country’s rural areas where locals need cash, Su said.

“Besides pollution of water bodies, the privatization of water is one area where we need to raise our prophetic voice as church leaders; otherwise, we deny water to poor people, who are vulnerable to various diseases,” said Mathew Koshy Punnackadu, convenor of the Church of South India synod’s ecological concerns group.