Africa's growing water crisis demands leadership and common action among faith groups, said the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in a keynote address for the Third Summit of the Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA).
In front of religious leaders and other IFAPA participants, the Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko emphasized that clean water is available to few Africans and that water is a "paramount issue."
"Conflict and peace both hang on this issue," said Noko, who also serves as IFAPA's president. "None of the three categories of stakeholders convened in this summit – religious communities, governments and the private sector – can undertake their responsibilities without this essential commodity."
This week, around 70 delegates from various faiths and sectors of society have gathered for the third IFAPA summit in Botswana's capital, Gaborone, under the theme "Envisioning a Peaceful Africa: Water for All."
The Nov. 17-21 summit – the first of its kind to include participation from government and business leaders – is expected to harness future collaboration among stakeholders on peace and development in Africa and address climate change.
First organized in October 2002 by the LWF, the pan-African IFAPA focuses on active engagement of religious leaders in conflict resolution and peace building on the continent. The initiative currently involves the seven faith traditions in Africa: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Bahai Faith and the African Traditional religion.
In his keynote address, Noko reminded IFAPA participants about the central place of water in religious practice and belief.
"Water is, first and foremost, a primary building block of life, which all religious traditions hold sacred," he said, as reported by Lutheran World Information (LWI), the information service of the LWF.
Noko pointed out that "despite the growing water crisis in many parts of Africa, religious leaders and communities … appeared to lack awareness of the challenges associated with water resource management and ownership."
"Water certainly qualifies as a common problem in the African context, given the process of desertification in many areas, and the general lack of adequate water source infrastructure and management facilities throughout the continent," he said.
The Lutheran leader cautioned that the water crisis in Africa is worsening with growing population, increasing industrialization and particularly climate change, which experts predict will hit Africa hardest of all, exposing up to 250 million people to increased water stress and reducing rain-fed farm yields by up to 50 percent by 2020.
"The impact of climate change can also be seen already in the death of rivers in many places in Africa, with once important sources of water for communities and nations having vanished," said Noko.
According to LWF, this week's IFAPA summit will launch the Southern Africa Development Community "Mothers' Cry for a Healthy Africa Campaign," following a similar move in East Africa, to affirm the critical role of women in issues that deal with peace and security.
"In launching this campaign in this region, we are not simply re-stating the facts that make Africa unwell, but we want to do something to change the situation," noted Noko.
"And this campaign is not only by and for women, but by and for all daughters and sons of Africa," he added.
While reminding delegates that conflicts remained a challenge to the continent's stability and development, Noko emphasized that Africa's future lies in its own hands.
"We have always said that poverty in Africa is a contradiction because this continent is rich, very rich," the IFAPA president added. "The problem lies in realizing that we Africans have to take the lead in the management and distribution of this wealth for the good of our children and future generations."
In a message to summit participants ahead of the meeting, Noko described the summit as a strong effort to empower Africans to find determination to formulate a concept of the New Africa – to stand on its own feet.
"Yes, a peaceful Africa is possible but lets not forget that peace cannot be imported from outside. We need indigenous soil and indigenous seeds for a New Africa", emphasized Noko.
The last IFAPA summit prior to this week's was held in 2005 near Johannesburg, South Africa. The first, which took place in 2002, was also held in the Johannesburg area.