March 13, 2021

Mercy Global Action and the Value of Water

On 22 March, 2021 we commemorate the 23rd annual World Water Day. World Water Day provides the opportunity to celebrate water and raise awareness to its various intersectional issues and injustices. This year’s theme for World Water Day is “Valuing water.” UN World Water Day toolkits highlight that how we value water determines how water is managed and shared; further resources demonstrate that the value of water is so much more than its price. Water has a complex value on our households, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of Earth.

Catherine McAuley stated: “Water is a free beverage.” Mercy Sisters, Associates and Partners recognize the human right to water and advocate to change systemic failings that prevent water being available to all, especially those that that limit access to, the protection of and preservation of clean water and sanitation. For the sake of people and Earth, food security and water management must be a priority for governments, the private sector, and local communities. These systemic failings and injustices include the privatization of water, poor water governance, unsustainable agricultural practices and gender inequality.

Water is much more than a commodity. It is a commons. More and more we have seen that privatization is not a just or equitable means of implementation or management. Maude Barlow explains in the report Our Water Commons, “many indigenous societies to this day cannot conceive of denying a person or a family basic access to food, aid, land, water and livelihood, as these are all shared as part of a commons.” This World Water Day, Mercy Global Action strives to change the narrative of valuing water --valuing water as a commons --a social and public good that no one owns, shared equitably for the public good.

Core to Mercy Global Action’s advocacy on water is Catholic social teaching, including Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, indigenous wisdom, and ways in which our various Sisters, Associates, and partners in ministry are working on issues related to water. In 2021, our office is launching a Water Task Force that will be made up of Mercy Global Action staff, Sisters, and Partners in ministry from Mercy Congregations and Institutes around the world. The Water Task Force will aim to collect stories, research and good practices from around the Mercy World and conduct analysis related to the connections between water and gender, extractivism, and climate justice.

Commemorating World Water Day

Ways in which Mercy Global Action has advocated on water in the past year and how you can be involved:

NGO Mining Working Group and Advocacy with Special Rapporteur on Water

On February 4th, Mercy International Association- Global Action met with newly appointed Special Rapporteur on water, Mr. Pedro Arrojo, as members of the NGO Mining Working Group. MGA has been a member of the NGO Mining Working Group since its inception; particularly taking a leading role during the Open Working Group and negotiations of the 2030 Agenda and advocating for explicit mention of the human right to water and sanitation. Since then, we co-authored the SDG 6 Water Justice Guide and have continued to advocate for water rights in Universal Periodic Reviews and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Water and Sanitation: A People’s Guide to SDG 6, A rights based implementation highlights the tools needed for communities to effectively realize their rights to water and sanitation through preventing the commodification of water and privatization of services, increasing public financing, measuring water quantity and scarcity, and promoting commons-based water management to empower local communities, protect watersheds and ensure equitable and sustainable distribution of water. There are two additional resources developed by the NGO Mining Working Group in relation to the Water Justice Guide: Water, Women and Wisdom and Reflections on Water.

The NGO Mining Working Group has developed a Rights-Based Litmus Test adapted from the Handbook on the Rights to Water and Sanitation by the former UN Special Rapporteur, Catarina de Albuquerque. This Rights-Based Litmus Test can be used when referring to any water related policy proposals in light of States’ international human-rights obligations and to articulate concerns and alternatives for increased compliance. For any given policy, the test asks: Does the policy “do no harm”? Does it effectively advance the human right to water? Can affected communities participate effectively in decision making and accountability? Is the policy sustainable and will assist future generations in realizing their rights?

Mercy Global Action Emerging Leaders Fellows (MELF) Research Projects on Water and the Environment

A key component of the Mercy Global Action Emerging Leaders Fellowship is research and the development of a research project on a pertinent justice issue related to the Degradation of Earth and /or the Displacement of Peoples.  From 16 to 18 February 2021, Fellows presented their research projects to the Mercy World. While all research projects could examine the intersections of water, this World Water Day, we encourage delving into:

  • Sr Theresia Tina’s research Where have the Rivers and Forests Gone? Oamug: A Case Study which describes the main sources of environmental degradation in Papua New Guinea including through deforestation and logging, extractivism, and agricultural expansion for commercial and everyday survival. Theresia’s research highlights possible strategies to help overcome this issue for the future generations. And
  • Ana Freeman’s research Photosynthetic Visions. A research project investigating the climate emergency, plant neurobiology and eco-art therapy techniques to encourage land and plant literacy among participants. A seven-day reflective process was created, using the premise of land as pedagogy and planthropocentric thinking. This process can be used and adapted by participants to deepen their relationship with their local eco-system as an antidote to anthropocentric thinking and behaviour and proposes an alternative to technological solutions to climate change.

Mercy Global Action and Hope in a Time of Pandemic : Revealing the Sacredness and Injustices of Water

 “This pandemic is an opportunity, a challenge, and a warning – to stop what we have been doing… to find real answers…It is causing us to slow down in many ways in order to listen to the inner, not the outer voice. This pandemic is causing us to slow down to Mother Earth based pace so that we can hear what she is saying.’’  (Mercy Partner and Unangan Indigenous Activist, Peru)

Last year, our office published a report, “Hope in a Time of Pandemic,” which contains stories, analysis and recommendations related to the experience of COVID-19 around the Mercy World. The report reveals systemic inequalities in social, economic, political and environmental areas. It also reveals the interconnectedness of people and planet and contains stories of extraordinary resilience throughout the Mercy World. For many, this has been a time of transformation where a heightened sense of the value and sacredness of the Earth has been realized. We have been reminded of traditional knowledge and wisdom about the land and water, and our relationship with them.The report highlights issues exacerbated by the pandemic, including the effects of extractivism, inadequate water and sanitation facilities, and issues related to public water supply and water management, especially on marginalized groups, people living in poverty, and indigenous communities.

While we reflect on our past year of advocacy, we invite you to reflect on the question of water and what it means to you.

Reflection questions:

  • How do you value water?
  • How does water affect males and females differently?
  • What role will water play in your future?
  • What role does water play in your home, workplace or school?
  • How does water play a role in your cultural practices?
  • What would you change about water in your area?
  • What do you use the most water for?
  • How does water affect the food you eat?

Tap into further resources on Water and World Water Day

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