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20 April 2012

Water footprint

Water footprint

The Environment Agency declared this week official drought zones in numerous English counties and warned that water shortages could last until Christmas. Farmers are rethinking the management of planting root crops and water provision for their cattle. Beyond our borders, water scarcity affects more than 2.7 billion people. In several regions, poverty, drought, and war prevent access to safe water. Mostly women and children spend a good part of their day hauling water. Safe drinking water is a daily health threat for millions of children. Water is described as the ‘oil’ of the future and it is likely that wars will be fought over it. So beyond environmental, health and social factors there is a moral and political dimension. Water provision in much of the world is a matter of justice.

The scarcity of water asks questions about our individual and communal stewardship. Professor Arjen Hoekstra created the idea of the ‘water footprint’, an indicator of both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. For example, the water footprint of a soy burger is about 160 litres, whereas that of a beef burger is about 1,000 litres. Professor Hoekstra said: "Water problems are often closely tied to the structure of the global economy. Many countries have significantly externalised their water footprint, importing water-intensive goods from elsewhere. This puts pressure on the water resources in the exporting regions, where too often mechanisms for wise water governance and conservation are lacking. Not only governments, but also consumers, businesses and civil society communities can play a role in achieving a better management of water resources."

Water was a precious commodity in the region where Jesus lived. Interestingly, his conversation with the woman at the well is the most extensive recorded dialogue. The introduction that “…he had to go through Samaria”, does not refer to a geographical route but rather to his missionary thrust. Samaritans were among the marginalised groups in society; ethnic and religious outcasts. Subverting the gender, social and religious dynamics, he engages this Samaritan woman in a conversation about living water. She may have expected Jesus to point her to an underground stream, which would have been an invaluable source. However, he speaks of the living water that will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:4-26).

The prophet Jeremiah refers to God as the “spring of living water”. Yet, the people have forsaken him and have dug their own broken cisterns that cannot hold water. The effects of such brokenness are all around us. In this season of drought and leakage, we see a call for the living water of God to flow into conversations across boundaries and borders.

God’s promise that He will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground is reflected in Jesus’ encounter with this woman. As their conversation progresses, he describes the true worshipers who will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. The well of life in Christ affects all aspects of life, restoring the individual and communal cisterns. Beyond the spiritual life, it will address hosepipe-bans, consumption, global markets, boycotting of products and effective international diplomacy. It causes justice to roll down like a river, righteousness like a never-ending stream.

As we follow in His footsteps may we leave an alternative ‘water footprint’ and see a well of salvation spring up.

Marijke Hoek, coordinator Forum for Change