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Teach water management, Ugandan official urges African churches


Uganda’s minister for water and environment, Maria Mutagamba, has urged churches in Africa to educate people on the continent about water use and management.

"One of the areas that I have found difficult is in the area of water utilisation. In Africa we just don’t know how to use water," said Mutagamba. She was opening a conference on 21 May of the church-backed Ecumenical Water Network in Entebbe on the shores of the 69 000 square-kilometre Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest piece of water.

"I want to beseech you, as church leaders, church organizations; you have the communities at your disposal; they listen to you. So please let’s get our communities to understand how to use water," said Mutagamba.

An estimated 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to adequate and safe drinking water, but, Mutagamba said, if communities were correctly informed they could be empowered to conserve and protect what they have.

About 70 participants including church leaders, officials from international non-governmental organizations and agencies, water experts and theologians from 25 countries are attending the gathering. They are reviewing the challenges of water supply and access in rural Africa and how it is affected by climate. They also want to examine how churches can address the political, social and economic conditions that underlie water access problems and they will discuss issues such as privatisation of resources, pollution and conflicts around water.

"This is a conference to raise the alarm and do what needs to be done," said University of Nairobi theologian Jesse Mugambi, a member of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches Working Group on Climate Change. Mugambi said water is essential to life, but many people do not have access to it.

"I don’t think water is an issue in the debate on meeting Millennium Development Goals," said Mugambi, referring to the United Nations blueprint to reduce poverty and enhance living conditions by 2015. "Yet water is a prerequisite even before you start talking about these goals. For the majority of the people in the continent, we are not even talking about reducing poverty, we’re talking about survival."

Some participants are concerned that African governments, which lack the capacity to provide water for their people, have been taking the wrong approaches on the issue.

"We are going for capital intensive development, whereas we should recognise we must develop micro projects, hether for water or for energy," said Anglican Bishop Geoff Davies from South Africa, known as for his stand on waste, genetic modification, air pollution and climate change.

The conference is organized by the Ecumenical Water Network, under the auspices of Uganda Joint Christian Council and the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches, the continent’s largest Christian unity body.

(c) Ecumenical News International