Read the entire "Our Living World" series here.
For United Methodists and other Christians, water has significant meaning in our faith. In the creation narratives recorded in Genesis, water was present from the beginning of creation. (Genesis 1:1-2; 2:6)
The richness of its meaning for Christians is shared in our baptismal liturgy. In the Thanksgiving over the Water, we pray remembering “the waters of creation and the flood, the liberation of God’s people by passage through the sea, the gift of water in the wilderness, and the passage through the Jordan River to the promised land.” (By Water and the Spirit)
When we are baptized with water, we are initiated into the community of God’s people, cleansed of our sin and born into a new way of living. Water reminds us of God’s ongoing covenant with God’s people.
Living as God’s stewards
We have received a special commission from God to take care of the good creation (Genesis 1:28). United Methodists take seriously the charge to be better stewards of God’s gift of water.
In our Social Principles we declare: "All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings."
Water sustains all life on earth. Our Social Principles statement about water expresses our awareness of the need to clean up polluted water and our support for policies to do so. It also shares our deep concern about privatization of water resources that turns water, needed for life to survive, into a commodity for profit. We believe water is a basic human right and not a commodity to be traded for profit.
Our statement on Protection of Water offers much more to consider as we seek to carry out God’s mandate to care for creation and live as those linked with all other life dependent on water for survival. It reminds us that the Bible “offers examples of God and humans intervening in people’s water crises and providing water (Genesis 21:19; Genesis 24:15-21; Numbers 20:9-11). Water is an integral part of God’s radical expression of God’s love to all humanity. Water cannot be monopolized or privatized. It is to be shared like air, light and earth. It is God’s elemental provision for the survival of all God’s children on this planet.”
Limited access impacts lives
Many people in the United States can easily access clean, safe water for drinking, cooking, bathing and recreation, though access to water has become an increasing matter of concern in the Western States. In many other parts of the world, clean, safe water is difficult to find at all. Waterways are polluted by industrial and agricultural runoff. Governments have prioritized the needs of corporations over the safety of their citizens. Human failure to act as faithful stewards of creation has resulted in many communities struggling with scarcity and pollution.
According to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, 668 million people around the world do not have reliable access to clean drinking water, and 1.8 billion lack adequate sanitation, leaving people, particularly children, vulnerable to deadly disease. Contaminated water is linked to such serious diseases as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. The World Health Organization estimates 525,000 children under five die each year from diarrhea alone.
Water is Life, a photo essay by United Methodist News, shines a light on the grueling daily effort required to collect water in some parts of Africa. The job of gathering water for drinking, cooking, bathing and laundry often falls to women and girls, who may walk for miles with water from ponds, wells or rivers carried in buckets on their heads. The heavy containers sometimes weigh as much as 40 pounds. According to the United Nations, 80% of households without piped water rely on women and girls for water collection.
Commitment to access for all
Safe water sources, along with hygiene and sanitation solutions, are essential for good health and well-being. United Methodists believe access to these services is a basic human right.
United Methodists continuously work to bring water, sanitation and hygiene projects to underserved and vulnerable communities around the world. Donations from United Methodists and others support these continuing efforts. You can learn more about these efforts here: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Program, Advance #3020600
These initiatives are more necessary now than ever before. Experts estimate that in fewer than 10 years, humanity’s demand for water could outstrip sustainable supply by as much as 40% due to rising energy needs and continued population growth. Water shortages from drought, climate change and energy production, as well as industrial pollution, increase costs to find and maintain clean water, negatively impacting poorer communities.
Commitment to stewardship
United Methodists are committed to life-giving stewardship and protection of God’s gift of life-sustaining water. What else can we do?
Individually, we can:
- Be mindful of personal water usage. Use less water for bathing and laundry, fix water leaks, and limit use of water for lawns, especially during times of drought.
- Use reusable water bottles instead of disposable, one-time-use plastic bottles.
- Minimize use of toxic and hazardous substances that may enter the water system.
Collectively, we can:
- Support investment in public infrastructure that will ensure clean water for all.
- Advocate for policies that protect the health and sustainability of watersheds, rivers, lakes and oceans.
- Ensure that water for human consumption is prioritized over industrial, energy or industrial agriculture demands.
- Support policies that hold corporations and companies that pollute water responsible for cleanup and restoration of water health and safety, and demand effective enforcement against illegal pollution.
In all these ways, United Methodists can faithfully carry out our commission to be caretakers of God’s precious gift of water for all who share our living world.
Ask The UMC is a ministry of United Methodist Communications.