Water: Global Concern, Dominican Effort

Water Global Concern, Dominican Effort

By Dana Hinton

IN 2004, Dana Hinton was communication director for the Dominicans of St. Catharine Kentucky. She prepared this story as part of a collaborative effort of the Dominican Alliance congregations.

In December 1992, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring March 22 of each year as the World Day of Water. States were invited to devote that day to activities which promote to the public the importance of conservation and the development of water resources. To bring even more attention to the topic, the U.N. named 2003 as the Year of Fresh Water.

For many, an entire year or even a day devoted to water may be a puzzling concept. For them it is a foreign idea to consider water conservation and the development of water sources. In most of the United States, the only effort required to obtain drinkable water is turning on the faucet. Watering plants, watering a lawn, or washing a car is carried out without hesitation.

Access to safe water

For so many others, however, scarce water resources are a growing concern. A Vatican document presented at the World Water Forum held in Kyoto, Japan, in 2003, stated that more than 1 billion of the world’s people do not have access to adequate supplies of drinking water and twice that many lack adequate sanitation. This lack of safe drinking water and sanitation systems all too often results in disease, poverty, and conflicts.

Others agree that water is and will continue to be a basis for conflicts. The vice president of the World Bank, Ismail Serageldin, said in 1998, “The wars of the next century will be about water.”

One U.N. report on the state of the world’s water predicts that access to water may be the single biggest cause of conflict and war in Africa during the next 25 years. In cases where countries share the resources of rivers and lakes and where populations continue to rise, the competition for control of water could be especially intense.

According to the U.N., there are numerous reasons for the world’s water problems. One of these is a major increase in world population. During the past century, Earth’s population has tripled, dramatically increasing water usage. In the last century, half of the world’s wetlands disappeared, and some rivers significantly receded, no longer reaching the sea.

Development, overuse, pesticides

Though the problems are not considered at crisis stage in the United States, this country does have serious problems with its fresh water supply. Within the U.S., the concern lies with excessive development, overuse of rivers, and pesticide runoff.

Sister Sharon Zayac, a Springfield Dominican, believes many in America are unaware of the enormity of this issue and its effects in this country. She notes the declining aquifers that support agriculture and animals for meat production and says U.S. water sources are polluted and wells are being pumped dry to provide bottled water.

Sister Sharon knows Americans will not be forever ignorant of the water crisis, because soon they, too, will feel the consequences of inappropriate and unsustainable use of water. “Water is no longer considered a renewable resource. We can’t make new water. It is reusable, and the water we have to reuse is no longer fresh or pure,” she said.

Water as a human right

Faith communities are engaged in efforts to raise this awareness. One group, the Washington, DC-based Africa Faith and Justice Network, has succeeded in getting the attention of enough members of Congress that a meeting of congressional aides was scheduled at the end of June to educate for support of two water-related congressional resolutions. Sister Sharon was scheduled to testify, and has said that she will call on Congress to make access to potable water a fundamental human right.

Organizations such as the Nature Conservancy are trying to keep the U.S. from reaching a crisis stage. With the help of experts in bio-hydrology, aquatic ecology, water law, and public policy, the Nature Conservancy is attempting to maintain the integrity of key river systems while making sure the water needs of the communities are met.

By the year 2015, the U.N. hopes to reduce by half the number of those without access to safe drinking water and sanitation. This will not be an easy task. However, the word is beginning to spread about the global need to care for our waters.

Responsibilities to Earth

Sister Carole Rossi, a Dominican Sister of St. Catherine, Kentucky, knows very well the importance of water. She helps to run the programs at Crystal Spring Learning Center, a project of her congregation located in Plainville, Mass. The center focuses on shared responsibilities to planet Earth and ways to live an ecologically-friendly life.

Sister Carole said that due to sloping lands, the natural springs at the learning center were at one time flooding and flowing down the street and causing problems for the neighborhood. At the same time, the center had begun to use its front lawn for vegetable gardens. This gave them an opportunity to put the wasted water to use. Today, the overflowing water is redirected to a newly dug filtering pond and is used for the gardens. Water iris, mint, and other cleansing plants were added to help purify the water.

Worldwide problems with water supply touch more than just humankind. Many other species are directly affected. According to the U.N., twenty percent of freshwater fish are endangered.

To help protect other species, the staff and volunteers at Crystal Spring are on the lookout for vernal pools. A vernal pool is a basin depression that fills with water as the water table rises. These pools can range from very small to over an acre in size and all are relatively shallow.

Sister Carole said these pools serve as birthing places for salamanders and frogs. The groups has not found any for sure yet, but if found, the pool would be noted with the town and protected from development.

Shepherd’s Corner is the ecology program of the St. Mary of the Springs Dominicans in Columbus, Ohio. The program extended its work to the local community through its affiliation with the Friends of Blacklick Creek, a protection organization that monitors the waterway. Springs Dominican Sister Jane Belanger, who has worked with Shepherd’s Corner since its beginning, asserts that the role of the organization has become increasingly important. The group makes sure developers and construction companies building in the area follow necessary regulations to protect the creek.

Members of the Dominican Alliance’s Eco-Justice Committee plan to focus their attention on the Earth’s water supply. They are planning an education effort that will help members of the Dominican Alliance and their friends learn how individual citizens can help to improve the lives of all species by improving Earth’s waters.

First published in JUST Words, Vol. 4, No. 3, Summer 2004.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois logo
Scroll to Top