Ecumenical Water Network urges elimination of bottled water

(Photo: © Helen Putsman / WCC)Veronica Flachier, Ecuador, holds a bottle of water from Jerusalem and a glass of dirty water near Geneva in December 2014.

The Ecumenical Water Network of the World Council of Churches has urged churches and ecumenical organizations in Europe and North America to consider eliminating the use of bottled water due to the its adverse impact on the environment.

The International Reference Group of the EWN after a meeting in Geneva said in a 24 July statement that the use of bottled water is an impediment to realizing the human right to water.

It cited research reports that bottled water wastes fossil fuels in production and transport.

Rather than being recycled, about 75 percent of the empty plastic bottles end up in landfills, lakes, streams and oceans, where they may never fully decompose.

The EWN argues that many times governments shun their responsibilities to provide safe drinking water to the poor through their water distribution system, because people have the alternative of "bottled water."

The availability of bottled water allows the elites to ignore the government's failure to provide the necessary infrastructure to provide safe drinking water, they argue.

Through aggressive marketing strategies, bottled water industries have successfully captured the minds of people, particularly in the "developed" countries, to think that "bottled water" is safer and healthier than tap water.

Today not only people from countries where tap water is not safe to drink buy bottled water at much higher prices, but also people in developed countries in Europe and North America, where tap water is safe to drink.

The EWN, a project of the WCC, has been raising awareness among churches and ecumenical organizations about water and sanitation issues, including the use of bottled water.


The meeting of the EWN's International Reference Group was held July 15-17 in Geneva.

The group also agreed to launch its Lenten campaign Seven Weeks for Water from Palestine in 2016 as a "pilgrimage of justice and peace in Jerusalem."

The campaign, which addresses water issues from a justice perspective, will also provide a focus for the EWN's upcoming meeting in Egypt.

The International Reference Group also welcomed the recently issued encyclical Laudato si by Pope Francis, singling out the document's specific attention to issues of water and sanitation and praising its "deep insight and timely commentary."

The group's response commends the way in which the papal encyclical connects crucial issues of water injustice, climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

"The encyclical manifests the Holy Father's deep concern about the water issues that are at the core of EWN's global advocacy efforts, including realization of the human right to water and sanitation, privatization and corporate water grabbing, water for food and attainment of the UN sustainable development goals," the EWN group said.

"We must learn to govern our lives by these values and extend them to the whole of creation.

"As Pope Francis indicates, we need to change our overly consumptive lifestyles, and profoundly alter our society's approach to water and other elements of nature, to address the critical water problems we have created," reads the response.

The EWN's International Reference Group includes representatives of the Catholic churches in Latin America and Africa, regional ecumenical organizations, specialized ministries and representatives of the WCC's Orthodox and Protestant member churches.

The group said it will participate in the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, where a series of 17 post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will be launched.

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