The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Swirling waters

A sacred resource and a human right, water is vital to life. What do we do about scarcity?

There is no substitute for clean, fresh water. We can live weeks without food but only days without water. Every day our bodies need four to five gallons of water—just to survive. The same is true for virtually all of the creatures in God’s good creation.

Swirling watersGiven how absolutely vital water is to life, it’s sobering to realize how scarce it is. To be sure, more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. But less than 2 percent of this is fresh water—most of it locked up in the polar ice caps and glaciers. The World Health Organization estimates that less than 1 percent of all fresh water is available for direct human use.

Unfortunately, the U.N. reports that more than 1 billion people—one in six people on Earth—lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion people lack access to improved sanitation. According to the World Bank, 88 percent of all diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene associated with inadequate sanitation. Every year, 1.8 million children die from diarrhea—that’s 4,900 deaths each day. Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.

The Bible emphasizes in four different ways that water is both a sacred communal resource and a fundamental human right. First, water is so fundamental to life that both creation accounts in Genesis simply assume its existence. In the first account, God’s ruah (breath or spirit) sweeps over the face of the waters prior to God’s separation of light from darkness on the first day of creation (Genesis 1:2).

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