|The second reflection of the Seven Weeks for Water is by Rev. Gloria Ulloa, an ordained priest of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia and the president of the World Council of Churches, Latin American region. In the following reflection she relates her own experiences of growing up in her village by the riverside. She laments the current situation of water in the Latin American region and challenges the churches to address this water crisis to usher fullness of life among us.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) (NIV)
I am a pastor and a teacher. I have been a pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia in many communities in the northern part of the country. For the past few years, working as chaplain in the Colegio Americano de Barranquilla(American School of Barranquilla), I have dedicated myself to developing skills and consciences of the boys and girls to care for the planet, especially caring for water. I have had the opportunity to travel throughout Colombia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and visit the countryside as well as cities, which has helped me understand that the issues regarding water are similar in different contexts.
I was born in a small village in Colombia’s countryside on the bank of the Rio Suarez, which was a source of nourishment and life to all my family. Our entire lives revolved around the river: we washed clothes, bathed, collected firewood and dried it to provide fire for cooking, we shared meals called “sancocho” on special days, like birthdays, Christmas and New Year’s. The rivers’ waters were abundant and crystal-clear. Nowadays, that river no longer carries the amount of water it once did and is mostly dirty and can no longer be used for washing, bathing, or cooking .
Despite all this, I should mention that South America has been blessed with great water resources, especially when compared with other continents. According to a 2015 study published by the Global Water Partnership, South America has the largest supply of freshwater in the world, with Brazil in first place, Colombia third and Peru taking eighth place. Additionally, the region has three of the largest river basins in the world: the Amazon, Orinoco and La Plata. However, Latin America and the Caribbean also have several countries with the poorest access to drinking water including Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
How can one not thank God for the great gift of the water we have in our American continent? However, we should also ask ourselves: why has the water flow of our rivers decreased over the years? How come there are regions in Latin American and the Caribbean that are suffering due to water shortage? Should the high cost of water that reaches households or that is sold in the market be considered “natural” or normal?
Unfortunately, in Latin America and the Caribbean and in many parts of our planet, due to legal and illegal mining industries, our water resources are not considered as strategic importance and are not preserved. The extractive industries promoted by the governments significantly threaten the backwaters, rivers, lakes and groundwaters. In Colombia, for example, “the multinational oil and mining companies have received all sorts of benefits, namely flexible environmental regulations from the government. One only needs to look at the patterns of the express licenses approved in 2014, the recognition given to the decree of national interest projects, the government’s apathy before great mining industry’s projects in the Santurbán Backwater, the rerouting of rivers in Guajira, and the intervention in areas of hydric importance throughout a great part of the national territory.
We have communities within the Presbyterian church, located in rural areas that are facing considerable difficulties not only due to the scarcity of water, but also for floods during rainy season. From our local communities and in collaboration with our sister churches in the United States, we have slowly been committed to bringing the good news about the right to drinking water to regions in the center of the country, such as Urabá and up North in Guajira. These are semi-arid regions heavily affected by the rerouting of rivers to allocate water to the mining industry, that once used to cater to the needs of the indigenous communities. I feel that, as a church, our prophetic voice to denounce these abuses of the governmental agencies and the mining companies has been absent.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) works through the Ecumenical Water Network to “protect water as a gift of God and advocate for water as a human right, at the local, regional and international level”. Furthermore, through the WCC, we have been part of the Comunidad Azul (Blue Community) since 2016 as a leading church of the region. The abundance of life that Christ offers includes enough water for human livelihoods, manufacturing activities and the protection of ecosystems. We should develop the capacity to manage this resource sustainably and, in collaboration with the sectors that use it, ensure that the risk we face is acceptable to people, the economy and the environment.
The water we use to bathe, generate electricity and grow food, does not come from the tap, but rather from the wetlands, the jungles, the forests and the backwaters. This requires of us as churches to be proactive in protecting it and in implementing measures that adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.
The gospel tells us that Jesus came to give us abundant life and that the lack of water is death.
Let us reflect on the following:
As a church, how are we contributing to water protection?
In our surrounding context, are we engaging with other, non-religious organizations to protect the right to water?
How are we teaching our youth to value water as a strategic resource for the life of the planet?
UNESCO, (2016): World Water Development Report.
El Espectador, July 6th, 2016. El Agua en Colombia alcanza para todos? María Mónica Monsalve
Las Dos Orillas, January 21st, 2016. Por qué hay escasez de agua en Colombia? Ricardo Eslava Niño.
Red Ecuménica del Agua. La Comunidad Azul, la respuesta de las iglesias a la cuestión del Derecho al Agua. Isabel Apawo Phiri.
World Council of Churches Declaration to protect the Amazon, 22 November 2017.
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