RISHIKESH, India — A collection of prominent religious leaders has joined forces to work for improved access to better sanitation and clean water in India, where millions of people live without access to toilets or clean, safe drinking water.
The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) launched in 2003, co-founded by Rabbi Awraham Soentendorp of the Netherlands and Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati of India, with the support of several faith-based organizations.
For the world’s faith leaders, the call to action on water made sense. “As the most essential element for human survival, water holds a prominent place in many of the world’s faith traditions,” the group’s UNICEF site states. “It not only cleanses, but is also a building block without which no life can exist. The significance of water manifests itself differently in different religions and beliefs, but it is these two qualities of water that underlie its place in many cultures and faiths.”
Issues of water, sanitation and hygiene (often abbreviated as WASH) are especially pronounced in India. Millions of people do not have access to safe and clean water. Furthermore, about 60 percent of people in the world who do not own a toilet live in India. As such, approximately 600 million people in India also continue to practice open defecation, posing significant risks to public health.
The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) is committed to expanding awareness of global WASH issues, clean water in India and overall working towards a swachh Bharat—a clean India—ensuring improved sanitation and proper hygiene for all. The organization takes a unique approach in order to do so, calling for harmony and cooperation between people of all faiths on a global scale.
With a diverse membership composed of leaders from the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Jewish and Sikh faiths, GIWA is well positioned to enable extensive outreach on clean water in India and other WASH principles.
As co-founder Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati notes of the organization’s key mission, “If we propagate WASH via the medium of faith, the message will go far and wide.”
GIWA’s primary operations include advocacy and outreach and working in partnership with like-minded organizations and government ministries to promote education on clean water in India and other WASH principles. This extends to such simple recommendations as handwashing with soap, a practice that can dramatically reduce diarrhea and other diseases.
In addition, GIWA helps to improve WASH facilities in disadvantaged communities, such as teaching people to make their own Bio-Sand water filtration systems, an inexpensive way of making water in India safe to drink.
Bringing down levels of open defecation has been an important goal for the alliance. As a proponent of the Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) methodology, GIWA recognizes the need to not only assist villages in constructing toilets, but also to educate about unhygienic behaviors and help communities live more in line with proper WASH principles.
GIWA also volunteers its WASH expertise to humanitarian relief efforts in times of need, helping communities to rebound following natural disasters. Most recently, GIWA assisted the response to the devastating 2015 earthquakes in Nepal and the 2013 floods in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.
The unique mission of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance continues to attract support for their work with water in India. An array of public figures and celebrities from around the world, including the Dalai Lama, Prince Charles and recording artist Macklemore have offered their support to GIWA’s mission.
Sources: CLTS Knowledge Hub, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) 1, YouTube, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) 2, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) 3, UNICEF, United Religions Initiative
Photo: India Legal