IEF Statements to CSD 12 (2004)


for the 12th session of the
(New York, 14-30 April 2004)



Statement prepared for the 12th session of the
Commission on Sustainable Development
by the International Environment Forum
(New York, 14-30 April 2004)

Water is fundamental to life and an essential resource for development. It is thus natural that it also has an important place in the cultural and spiritual traditions of the peoples of the world. The vital necessity of water for physical life makes it an obvious metaphor for the importance of spiritual life The deep and varied roots of this attachment to water and its cleanliness can support efforts in public education, participation and responsibility for water protection and management.

The various religious scriptures emphasize the link between water and purity, both material and spiritual. We read in the Qur'an: "And pure water send We down from Heaven," in the Gospel: "Except a man be baptized of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God," and in the Bahá'í writings: "Wash ye every soiled thing with water that hath undergone no alteration.... Be ye the very essence of cleanliness amongst mankind."

The cleanliness so essential for good health has strong roots in spiritual and cultural traditions, as reflected in such practices as ablutions. The importance of using pure water, of washing with clean and not polluted water, must be emphasized in programmes to help people rise out of poverty and raise health standards. Educational programmes that combine the scientific arguments for water purity and cleanliness with religious and cultural precepts will achieve greater acceptance.

The concept of sustainable development is founded in justice and equity within and between generations. Equitable access to and distribution of water resources must be at the foundation of any water strategy. This applies not only at the community and national levels, but also in the relations between States that share transboundary watersheds and river basins. Formal consultative mechanisms between States, and opportunities for participation and dialogue among all relevant stakeholders, are required to resolve disputes over limited water resources with transparency and justice.

As water becomes an increasingly limited resource for development, the principle of moderation in water use must be emphasized. Each user must become aware that waste and excessive use of water will deprive others, and that a spirit of solidarity is necessary to ensure that water benefits everyone. This should be come a theme for consumer citizenship and educational programmes.

Water is also essential for natural ecosystems and environmental quality. Many aquatic freshwater and coastal habitats have suffered from water pollution and reduced supplies. Water and sanitation policies and programmes should take into account not only human uses, but also the importance of maintaining the natural ecological balance of the world and its diverse and productive natural systems and cycles.

Meeting the international targets for water and sanitation will require not only governmental and intergovernmental efforts, but a vast public mobilization that can only be achieved if the two great knowledge systems that are science and religion are both fully implicated.



Statement prepared for the 12th session of the
Commission on Sustainable Development
by the International Environment Forum
(New York, 14-30 April 2004)


Human beings are a social species, and naturally cluster in communities of various sizes from extended families to mega-cities. These human settlements are not simply physical concentrations of people engaged in various material and economic activities, they have significant social, cultural and even spiritual functions that must be considered in any programme for human settlements.

At the heart of any community must be some unity of purpose, and this unity results from applying some basic principles of community life. Consultation and participation allow everyone to express their needs and desires.

Respect for all components of the community, including its minorities, and encouragement for the expression of a diversity of perspectives, provides a broad foundation for united action.

The community is the most appropriate unit for implementing principles of solidarity and concern for the poor and handicapped. The Bahá'í concept of community includes a democratically elected administrative council, a regular town meeting where everyone can express their views, and a financial mechanism supported by various revenues, including a graduated income tax after basic needs are met, providing social services so that no one is left in poverty, and so that farmers, for instance, have their costs covered even in bad years. Everyone should receive the education and training necessary to contribute to society, and the community must give everyone the opportunity to use those skills in service to the whole.

The spiritual dimension of human settlements planning cannot be neglected. Coming together to worship is as important to community life as coming together to buy and sell. Just as a temple, church or mosque has often been a traditional centre of community activity, so Bahá'ís see the community of the future as having a place of worship in the centre where those of every faith can gather for prayer before going about their daily occupations. Around this will be various institutions of social service: schools and university, hospice, hospital, home for the aged, orphanage, etc. The material form of the community would thus reflect its spiritual and social realities.

A major issue for human settlements is the appropriate scale of human concentration. Over-crowding at high density is known to produce behavioural abnormalities. Many aspects of healthy community life operate best at a smaller, more "human" scale, as expressed in the natural formation of neighbourhoods in large cities when the infrastructure permits. Now that information and communications technologies have provided new mechanisms for human organization, it is time to rethink the optimal size of human settlements in the light of their social and cultural as well as economic functions. The distributed nature of many renewable energy resources, for instance, might suggest a more distributed and decentralized pattern of human settlements as well.

The future of human settlements that succeed in meeting the economic, social, cultural and religious needs of their inhabitants must lie in achieving a better balance between the material and spiritual in their physical design and political and social organization. Only then will the settlements be transformed into truly sustainable communities.


Last updated 13 April 2004