That was the message from Adam Russell Taylor, the World Bank’s Faith Initiative Lead, at this year’s Stockholm World Water Week. Speaking at the Water and Faith: Building Partnerships to achieve the SDGs session, he pointed out that the SDG goals were not politically binding. Achieving them would ‘require a revolution in social and political will’ – and this would require reaching out to all groups, including religious communities, he said.
The World Bank had already come to this conclusion: ‘We have moved from a question of ‘should we engage with the world of religion?’ to ‘how do we engage?’, and that shift is a profound one, not only throughout the World Bank but beyond, to other UN institutions, the US government, the German government and others.’
His views were echoed by the other panel speakers in the Water and Faith session, which was convened by the Global Water Partnership, Stockholm International Water Institute, Swedish Institute Alexandria, Church of Sweden and World Council of Churches.
François Brikké, Senior Network Officer with the Global Water Partnership’s Global Secretariat, said; ‘We need faith groups because of their proximity [to communities] and ability to help us go the extra mile. Water is a converging point between different faiths so it is also a convenor of dialogue and of peace between different communities.’
Dinesh Suna, Coordinator of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Water Network, said poor faith literacy among donor and secular organisations had historically led to suspicion of working with faith groups. However, faith-based organisations were uniquely positioned to provide a critical link between humanitarian agencies and the world’s poor.
‘Faith-based organisations can increase programme effectiveness, address fragmentation of humanitarian programming, and build relationships and trust that will endure past the intervention or crisis,’ he said.
Adam Russell Taylor suggested that faith communities had five distinctive contributions to offer to end extreme poverty and secure water and sanitation for all:
- Moral imagination – ‘With over 80% of the world’s population identifying with a religious tradition, we know that religious leaders and organizations have significant influence in raising awareness, shaping worldview and shaping social norms.’
- Moral persuasion/influence – ‘Faith-based organizations are perfectly positioned to prioritise WASH because they run health clinics, hospitals, and schools all over the world.’
- Moral Clarity – Quoting from Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si – ‘the poor and the earth are crying out’, he said faith groups had a particular concern for the weak and vulnerable, and also for stewardship of the Earth.
- Moral authority – Faith groups could play a critical role of advocacy, ‘from social accountability at the most local level to national policymaking and corporate practice and behaviour’. This was particularly important given the estimate that achieving SDG 6 (access to safely managed water and sanitation services) by 2030 will require spending US$150 billion per year.
- Moral Urgency – ‘A water secure world for all is not just an aspiration, it’s a moral imperative.’