Water is life

In South Africa we always discuss the weather, especially whether it has rained, and how much. “Pula!” (rain!) is even a good wish in Sotho. In Botswana the Pula is the unit of money! The reason we are so obsessed by rain is because we live in a water scarce country. A large part of South Africa is desert or semi-desert. This fact causes a limit to our development possibilities. In this country we have to be very wise in dealing with water, because we know that there are already many towns and cities that experience serious problems with their water. On the one hand we will have to limit our use of water as far as possible, but we will also have to do much more to keep our water clean and healthy. It is extremely expensive to make water available to all our households, but it is even more expensive (and important) to ensure a good quality of water.

The one drop

Do you know that more or less 70% of the earth’s surface is water? That is why the earth is called “the blue planet”. But: of a 100 drops of water (or let’s say 100 litres) only 3 are not salty! And 2 of those 3 fresh water drops are caught up in the ice of the Antarctic, Greenland, and the glaciers of the highest mountains. In the end we have only one drop out of 100 that we can use. This potable water is in our rivers and dams, but mostly underground in the natural reservoirs.

Although there is today just as much water on earth as at the time before there were people inhabiting the earth (because the earth including its atmosphere acts as a closed system in which the water circulate) the need for water is presently MUCH, much more. Not only is the human population growing exponentially, but the individual use of water is also growing. It is said that we can live a month or more without food, but not a week without water! Almost 70% of our body weight is water, and we need to replenish more than two litres of water per day! The need for water is seemingly the strongest drive or desire humans have. So there is great competition for that single drop of fresh water, so much so that it is said that the future wars will be over the use of that drop! We are dependent especially on our groundwater (the water in our “Bank” under the ground), but this is slowly being depleted, because we pump out much more than that is going back. We must absolutely conserve our groundwater. (That is why we cannot take a chance with the fracking experiments in the Karoo.) Churches should make their voices heard about this concern.

It is true that the total amount of water doesn’t get less, but it also doesn’t grow. It is the pressure on the available water that mounts, because the growing number of people each wants more of it. We use it for agriculture (two thirds of our fresh water is used in food production), but also to produce clothes, vehicles, washing machines, TVs, mobile phones, and all the other things made in factories, and factories use a lot of water! But the tragic thing is that the water is seriously polluted in the process. For further human use it must be purified again at great cost, because polluted water kills people (and animals)! Don’t mess with water.

Water in the Bible

It is no surprise that the Bible often refers to water. It starts with the creation stories. Water was the first which had to be dealt with. It was divided between the atmosphere, the oceans and the rivers on land. From the start the rivers were important to the people, therefore the rivers around the garden of Eden were named. Much of the (biblical) history takes place next to rivers like the Nile and the Jordan… and the book of Revelations looks forward to a new Paradise where the river will never run dry, and will feed the trees and the people! And that these trees will bring forth healing fruits.

The biblical patriarchs lived – like us – in a dry part of the world where water was often the cause of strife. Water is life, Jesus said, and he offered the water of eternal life: “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:14). It is right that one of our strongest symbols in church is the water of baptism, the symbol of the washing away of sin, yes, and the symbol of eternal life! Water is a blessing, God’s gift of life to us.

Water is life, indeed, but it is also to be feared as the bringer of death! We remember The Flood (of Genesis 6 and 7): water, too much water, was the punishment for humankind’s rebellion against God! And increasingly we fear the floods, the tsunamis, and the rise of sea levels which seem to be the results of climate change. We fear not only droughts, but also too much water.

What can we do?

What can we do to conserve our water, and to keep it pure? Actually, we can do a lot: we can shower instead of taking a bath; close the tap instead of letting it run! We can plant gardens which are less thirsty; our factories and power plants can be changed to be more effective with water usage; we can eat less meat (it takes almost 20 000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of beef; against only 220 litres for a kg of maize, 90 litres for a kg beans, and 60 litres for 1 kg of potatoes!). In other words: we have to change our lifestyle. We can also consider to put up water tanks to catch up rain water from our roofs (rain water harvesting). This water can be very precious as clean water resource, especially when there is water scarcity or for starting a small food garden. We could also make it a project of our congregation or a joint project in partnership with other communities, clinics or schools. It will make a difference. Apart from that all of us, but especially our municipalities and industries, must do more to limit the pollution of water.

Why would we do this? The one reason is certainly that we as Christians love God and his creation, and that we want to live responsibly as God’s representatives (Genesis 2:26) on earth. But the other reason is that we are called to love our neighbour. We are dependent on each other. If there is one element that makes us one it is water: the same drop of water goes through all of us, through the plants and animals; flows through the rivers to the sea where it is taken up by the sun into the clouds; from where it rains on all of us and give us life. We are all in the same boat, we drink the same water. By conserving water we look after each other. From the glass of cold water we share with one another, we will be recognised as children in God’s coming kingdom.

This is our Christian obligation. Let us talk about it. Let us start doing something.

Dons Kritzinger

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