World Water Day Statement from Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI

Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

With thanks to Fr. Séamus Finn, OMI

Water for Peace

Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI
Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI

The annual World Water Day is celebrated on March 22nd, 2024. This day focuses on the gratitude we owe our great God for the life-giving gift of water, which is necessary for all life as we know it on planet Earth. This is a day of thanksgiving, and for each and all on planet Earth to examine how we are using, or perhaps, sadly abusing and wasting this wonderful gift, individually, in our families, in each and every community, and at a local, state, and national level. World Water Day is a United Nations (UN) observance coordinated by UN Water. Every year, it raises awareness of a major water related issue and inspires action to tackle the water and sanitation crisis. World Water Day is one of two special ecology days, the other being Earth Day which is celebrated in April. While each is celebrated separately, there is a natural and essential connection between the two as water is a main component of planet Earth.

Two Special Ecology Days

Pope Francis in two major statements on the environment brings out how these two ecology days focus on our Common Home, planet Earth and reminds us that the web of life is one. These two special creation days celebrate the beauty and wonder of God’s creation which has its origin in a plan of love and truth. This love in nature surrounds us and is nothing more and nothing less than God’s work of art, the divine gallery.

Water for Peace

The theme for this year’s World Water Day as given to us by UN Water is “Leveraging water for peace and prosperity” Put simply, World Water Day is called “Water for Peace”. As we review history, we readily see that water can create peace or spark conflict. When water is scarce or polluted, or when people have unequal or no access, tensions can rise between communities and countries. UN reminds us that more than 3 billion people worldwide depend on water that crosses national borders. Yet, out of 153 countries that share rivers, lakes, and aquifers with their neighbors, only 24 countries report having cooperation agreements for all their shared water.

Without Water we Die

Various other studies point out the sad and thirsty fact that tens of millions of our fellow human beings on planet Earth lack clean drinking water every day. Without water, we die. No one can know the infinite importance of a tiny drop of water better than a man in the desert! This number will continue to increase because as populations grow, water will become increasingly important in the fight against poverty and the deterioration of the environment. Water scarcity is an increasing problem on every continent with the poor countries most badly affected. Where there is peaceful cooperation around water then it can flow into peaceful cooperation in all sectors. By working together to balance everyone’s human rights and needs, water can be a stabilizing force and a catalyst for sustainable development.

The Spiritual Significance of Water

Safe drinking water and sanitation are fundamental to the good nutrition, health, and dignity of all. Water is also crucial for food production and food preparation by people at home as well as by formal and informal food vendors. Water is also essential for industries and economic growth. Clean water is a foundational element that enables all of our work. Water also holds great spiritual significance in many cultures and religions around the world. It is often seen as a symbol of purity, cleansing, and rebirth. In various spiritual practices, water is used in rituals such as baptism, purification ceremonies, and as a representation of the divine. As we reflect on our creation story given to us in Genesis, we readily see that water was an essential part of the whole creative process.

We all have a part to play.

World Water Day is a united nations observance which calls us every year to raise awareness of major water related issues and inspires action to tackle the water and sanitation crisis. We all have a part to play. UN Water encourages us as individuals, as families, and communities to use water more carefully, to reduce stress on the environment, and water’s infrastructure. We can also hold elected officials, Companies, organizations, and others to account for their obligations and promises on water. In our working lives, we can also ensure that all our activities are done responsibly and protect water resources and ecosystems, according to the law. We begin by showing our concern for the cleanliness and sanitation of the bodies of water nearest to us – our homes, ponds, streams, rivers, lakes, and aquifers.

How to use Water for Peace

We all need to unite around water and use water for peace, laying the foundations of a more stable and prosperous tomorrow. UN Water gives us three guiding principles of how to use Water for Peace.

  • Water Cooperation should be inclusive. Water resources serve and are affected by multiple stakeholders, including civil society, government (National and Local), indigenous people, the media, the private sector, and the scientific community at multiple levels.
  • Water cooperation should be cross-sectoral. Bringing together water, energy, agriculture, environment, and others helps to better manage trade-off’s and can amplify the benefits that accrue from collective action while also safeguarding ecosystems. Multilevel government systems are the keyways to deliver legitimate, equitable, and sustainable outcomes.
  • Water cooperation should also be action oriented. The benefits that cooperative processes can offer communities, sectors, ecosystems, and countries across the sustainable development goals. They can only be realized if concrete steps are taken to address funding and financing gaps, insufficient and inaccessible data that result in poorly coordinated and uneven power relationships among stakeholders, and slows the use of innovative practices and technologies. Early and efficient cooperation over water resources can also prevent water from being a trigger, a weapon in times of conflict. Working towards the establishment of formal arrangements is key for long term successful cooperation.

World Water Day reminds us that water is the basic essential for all life. The water management and resource distribution ethic of this gift must be guided by consideration for the common good for the people of the world and the natural systems, for the planet itself. Pope Francis reminds us that the Earth, with the beautiful gift of water, is the common home of humanity, the one we will pass on to the next generations.