‘Water for life’ – Joint program of VCLC-NCCI and the EWN-WCC

‘Water for life’ –

Joint program of VCLC- National Council of Churches in India and the EWN-World Council of Churches

3rd November 2017 | NCCI Campus, Nagpur.

A one-day consultation on ‘Water for life’ was organized in the NCCI Campus on the 3rd of November 2017. It was a joint program of the Vidarbha Centre for Labour Concerns – National Council of Churches in India VCLC – NCCI) and Ecumenical Water Network – World Council of Churches (EWN – WCC). The 50 participants in the consultation were from the Church of North India, Mar Thoma Church, and the Orthodox Seminary, from faith-based organizations and also people (people of different faith traditions) from Butibori – MIDC and Totladoh who have been affected by developmental activities in the region. NCCI Secretaries and Interns also participated in this consultation.

The major focus of the program was on the International, National and Local issues of the Water Crisis as water is being commoditized and therefore this natural resource is made available unequally.

The program started with a very meaningful devotion on the issue of Water led by the interns of the NCCI that explained the importance and value of water in the life and work of the human race.

Along with Rev. Dr. Gaikwad, General Secretary of NCCI, Mr Rajesh Jadhav, Coordinator of VCLC, welcomed the chief guest of this program Mr Dinesh Suna, WCC Program Executive and Coordinator of Ecumenical Water Network. Mr. Rajesh Jadhav also greeted all the participants from various walks of life, who were invited to introduce themselves. He then gave a brief introduction to the issue of the day, “Water for Life.”

The keynote address was given by Dinesh Suna of WCC Ecumenical Water Network through a PowerPoint presentation which gave a global view on the crisis and the challenge. The presentation highlighted various statistics which informed as well as roused people to understand the importance of water, particularly safe drinking water, for life. Water scarcity is one of the pressing environmental issues of today’s world. Large numbers of people have no access to water and lack adequate means of sanitation. Mr Dinesh Suna also gave a global view of the Ecumenical Water Networks initiatives to change situations through advocating for safe drinking water through various activities. He explained that EWN believes that water is to be preserved and shared for the benefit of all creatures and the wider creation. It is therefore right to speak out and to act when the life-giving water is pervasively and systematically under threat.

WCC-EWN’s aim is to promote the preservation, responsible management and the equitable distribution of water for all, based on the understanding that water is a gift of God and a fundamental human right, their objectives The Ecumenical Water Network has been formed

  • to make a Christian witness heard in the present debate on water issues,
  • to raise the awareness of the churches on the urgency of the concern,
  • to engage as an ecumenical community in common action at all levels

This session brought lots of insights in the minds of the people.

The third session was taken by Rev.Christopher Rajkumar, Executive Secretary – NCCI Unity and Mission.  He gave his insights on COP (Conference of Parties) and the various larger issues related to climate change, global warming and climate justice. The United Nations Climate Change Conferences are yearly conferences held in the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They serve as the formal meeting of the UNFCCC Parties (Conference of the Parties, COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change, and beginning in the mid-1990s, to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. From 2005 the Conferences have also served as the “Conference of the Parties Serving as the Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol” (CMP); also parties to the Convention that are not parties to the Protocol can participate in Protocol-related meetings as observers. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds developed country Parties to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, adopted in Paris on 12 December 2015, marks the latest step in the evolution of the UN climate change regime and builds on the work undertaken under the Convention. The Paris Agreement charts a new course in the global effort to combat climate change.

The fourth session was a panel case study presentation on the challenges faced by the Totladoh community. The three panelists were Mr Vinod Gajbiye, a veteran activist from Totladoh, Professor Ghosh an environmentalist and Mrs Jalware, an inhabitant from Totladoh.

Mr Vinod narrated the history of the eviction of their community in 2002 from their original homeland (Totladoh) on the banks of a river water reservoir in the forest the area, as the Government wanted to convert the place into a national park and a tiger reserve, to attract tourists.  He highlighted the struggles of the fisher community of Totladoh as they were rendered homeless and without their source of livelihood, the river in which they fished. The NCCI had at that time helped the people to settle down in the new place providing them basic materials to construct their dwellings and to dig a well for drinking water as well as a small lake to collect water during the monsoon season. However, they were denied access to the river in the forest and they have struggled for livelihood. Though the Forest Act of 2006 granted them the right of access to the river, yet the powers that be have prevented them from access to the river. Some of them have even been killed or injured by the forest guards. After the monsoon season is over, the lake water also gets used up and then they have water problems during the dry months. Most of the seniors and the youth are struggling to find jobs to sustain themselves and their families.

The second panelist, Professor Ghosh gave a Socio-Political analysis of this whole reserve Tiger project and the mercenary motive of the government behind this entire project of Pench Tiger Reserve and the entire displacement which has disrupted the life of the tribals in the area and has broken the social fabric among the people. He also explained that this whole arrangement of tiger reserve is much unplanned.  Statistics show how after making the area a reserve forest, more tigers are dying than in earlier times when there was a very good coexistence of the tribals and the animals. Today, anybody who opposes the scheme of tiger reserve is called anti-national.

The third panelist Mrs Jalware explained that their community life was totally based on the river water reservoir in the jungles of Pench Reservoir. Fishing gave them livelihood (jobs) as well as life (food), but now everyday is a struggle. They don’t even have a regular job; they have to go distant places where they get very miniscule daily wage as farm laborers. Women along with men also have to struggle to get water in the dry season. Their children are suffering because of lack of good education and skills.

 Plenary Following the panel presentation on Totladoh, the participants were divided into two groups. They discussed the importance of water, particularly safe drinking water for their survival. They affirmed that safe drinking water is a fundamental right. It is the government’s duty to ensure availability of safe drinking water to all. The participants also discussed how they would spread greater awareness about these concerns: staring from individuals we should make it a community concern leading on to a mass movement. Rainwater harvesting needs to be done. Campaigns have to be conducted against releasing of industrial effluents into rivers and other water bodies. As far as practicable, people should be encouraged to use surface water and not ground water.

 Closing Remarks

Mr. Dinesh Suna explained that water is a resource which produces local as well as global benefits and its availability varies, sometimes dramatically, in time and space. He highlighted five principles related to safe drinking water: (i) Accessibility; (ii) Affordability; (iii) Quality / Safety; (iv) Sufficiency; and (v) Acceptability.

Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad reiterated the concerns about water particularly in the drought-prone regions of Maharashtra; the difficulties of the poor farmers who have to depend upon loans from money-lenders to sustain their families and animals as well as prepare for the following monsoon season; the tragedy of repeated droughts leading many of them to commit suicide; the privatization of water or commercializing water bodies, thereby forcefully evicting water-livelihood-based communities from their homelands without giving them suitable alternatives and proper compensations; the submerging of vast tracts of land (the home of several villagers, mostly tribals) because of the construction of huge dams; the struggle of communities in the context of capital and skill based development which renders the evicted people helpless; the need to capacitate the oppressed and marginalized communities particularly their youth and children to find helpful alternatives; and to continue to struggle for their rights to Jal(water) Jungle(forests) and Jamin (land).

Rajesh Jadhav
Coordinator, VCLC – NCCI.

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