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Canadian church opts for tap water in anti-privatisation campaign

Members of Canada’s largest Protestant denomination are going to drink tap water at meetings in future and not the bottled variety that has become institutionalised at gatherings, if church leaders have their way.

United Church of Canada leaders say this stems from decisions taken at the general council of the church between 13 and 19 August when the denomination’s main decision-making body demanded an end to the privatisation of water.

"Bottled water containers labelled with images of pristine natural environments are rapidly becoming a major threat to the environment and to our health," notes the Web site of Kairos, a social justice group supported by the United Church and other Canadian denominations.

In addition, "The bottled water industry’s marketing of ‘safe, clean water’ undermines citizens’ confidence in public water systems, and paves the way for the water companies to take over underfunded public utilities," the group asserts.

Meeting in Thunder Bay, a port city on one of the world’s largest fresh water lakes in Ontario province, denominational leaders approved a recommendation based on a report which urges the Canadian government to oppose national and international agreements that promote the privatisation of water services.

That report, called "Water: Life before Profit", was issued in August by the United Church of Canada and said the World Bank has loaned US$30 billion in the past 12 years for water privatisation. It noted that Canadians use more than twice as much water as Europeans. It adds that while many Canadians now buy bottled water, testing has shown tap water in most parts of the country is "as clean or cleaner than some of this water in small bottles".

Calling water "a sacred gift that connects all life", the church says the value of water for the common good must take priority over commercial interests.

Media noticed bottled water at the conference site where the motion opposing water privatisation was agreed. It transpired that plans to use tap water were thwarted by site regulations prohibiting use of water not provided at the venue.

The church decision-makers then voted to discourage the purchase of bottled water for use at church meetings, "where possible".

David Hallman, coordinator of the World Council of Churches’ climate change programme, told Ecumenical News International that relief and development agencies are increasingly concerned about access to safe and reliable sources of water. "Climate change will make access more problematic due to drought and flood," says Hallman, "yet international bodies are pushing to make water a tradable commodity."

The church report on water notes that in 1990, 51 million people worldwide got their water from private companies, but by 2003, the number had increased to 300 million.

(c) Ecumenical News International