Water and Values

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. June 2011 - 23:46
e-learning centre on sustainable development


Heading: Ethics    Topic: Water and values

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 access to clean 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.


Based on an IEF statement on "Water and Sanitation - An Integrated Approach" to the 12th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, 2004.

Article last updated 3 April 2006

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