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Loving Our Neighbors: Rallying Around the Water Crisis

Posted May 14, 2016

In connection with the United Methodist Women's rally to demand clean water for all, Caroline Cooper Archer reflects on the water crisis near and far. Caroline graduated from Mercer University with a B.S.E. in Environmental Engineering in May 2015. She recently interned with Blood:Water and is now pursuing a Master of Divinity at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.

By Caroline Archer

When I think about the water crisis, I immediately think of sub-Saharan Africa. I spent my undergraduate years studying Environmental Engineering at Mercer University, and one of the most forming parts of the experience was a service learning class called Mercer on Mission Uganda. We spent two weeks in Macon, Georgia learning about appropriate development, a style of development focused on sustainability and empowerment of communities, and three weeks in Uganda, mainly around Gulu, testing water quality and practicing the manual drilling of wells with a local businessman.

The water crisis is a pressing issue in sub-Saharan Africa, a constant concern that takes up a huge portion of time and effort, especially for the women and children whose responsibility it is to walk to and from water sources.

 My experience in Uganda so deeply touched my soul that the first thing I did after our move to Nashville was seek a way to stay connected to the issue. I found Blood:Water, a non-profit motivated by the love of Christ that partners with local leaders in Africa to fight the HIV/AIDS and water crises.

I loved my time at Blood:Water, but even as I was working to fight the water crisis it was easy for it to feel like a distant problem. In America, it can feel like we will never have to worry about the water crisis impacting our every day life. We know that we will have enough water to drink, to cook, to shower, and to clean. We trust that the water coming out of the tap is safe to consume.

But the terrifying truth is that we are never far from the water crisis.

The infrastructure in the United States is rapidly deteriorating, and like too many hard truths with environmental issues, most people prefer to leave these problems out of sight and out of mind.

The hardest thing about the water crisis is that it touches so many different fields: engineering, technology, science, politics, scenery, and more. In the world of cleanup, there are superfund sites, potentially responsible parties, the National Priorities List, Persistent Organic Pollutants (think DDT), and policies far past my level of understanding.

Cleanup is an ongoing process that takes many hours from many people and a lot of money. Too often, this means that water sources for more wealthy communities are cared for first while poorer communities are left with polluted water sources. Even worse, this means that poorer communities will sometimes be changed over to water sources that are known to be polluted to save cities money.

Most recently, we’ve seen the way this can go badly in Flint, Michigan. Soon, it could happen in Portland, Oregon. This podcast does an excellent, in-depth job explaining the issues with the Willamette River in Portland, a known superfund site.

If we take seriously Jesus' call to love our neighbors, we must come together to protect our communities and our water sources.

The first step is to prevent discriminating changes to water sources. But the problem runs deeper than just the way that we clean our water sources. We’re using too much water every day and not addressing the problem. This starts with our personal daily use – long showers, running the tap while we brush our teeth, leaky faucets – and extends to industrial processes and agriculture.

Something has to change. We have to be aware of when water scarcity and/or quality is an issue in our communities. We have to act now and keep acting before the problem gets even worse. This Monday, May 16, United Methodist Women will be holding a rally around General Conference in Portland, Oregon to emphasize that water is a human right. Even though I’ll be in Nashville, I’ll be joining them virtually.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors and to care for the least of these. This means that it’s our responsibility to take notice when things are not right in our environment and to change them. Let’s start now.