GIWA Concept Statement

October 2013

The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance – Summary Paper

Summary PaperThe Power of Partnering with Religious Leaders and Communities – Advancing Child Survival and Improving Maternal Health

An estimated 5 billion people across the world are members of religious communities. Today, religious communities are an indispensable partner in UNICEF work to advance children’s rights and enhance their well-being. Such partnerships are especially important in our renewed focus on reaching the poorest, most vulnerable and hardest to reach children and families.

In June 2012, the governments of the United States, India and Ethiopia in collaboration with UNICEF brought together 700 leaders and global experts to launch a sustained effort to end preventable child deaths called A Promise Renewed. More than 220 faith-based organizations pledged, at that gathering, to help accelerate the goals of A Promise Renewed…by advocating for and taking action on maternal, new-born and child survival.

One of the best strategies to reduce child deaths is improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Safe water and sanitation are two of the most basic human rights…two of the most basic requirements for healthy and productive societies. They enable children to survive and thrive. They enable communities to grow and prosper. Religious communities have a proven track record of success in promoting WASH (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene)-focused efforts globally. It is, therefore, a natural progression for an interfaith partnership to develop with a strong emphasis on helping realize the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on water and sanitation.

And with less than 2 years until the MDGs’ deadline, more advocacy and action are urgently needed. The establishment of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance could not be timelier.

Background on the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA)

In the lead-up to international celebrations of World Water Day in March, 2013, a multi-stakeholder dialogue on water, “Wings for Water,” was held in The Hague with support from the Government of the Netherlands. As a direct outcome of “Wings for Water,” the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) took flight as the world’s first initiative to engage the Earth’s many faiths as allies in global efforts on water and sanitation. GIWA will be operating as a decentralized, non-hierarchical and action-oriented civil society network of religious leaders and faith-based organizations united by a common concern: to advance the achievement of the MDG on water and sanitation, and create a world where every human being has access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.


History reveals that in many instances, severe social challenges could only be tackled and finally overcome when religious leaders and their communities weighed in on the causes with all their moral, social and economic capital. Shining examples are the abolitionism-movement, spearheaded by evangelical Christian groups in the 18th and 19th century; the Satyagraha-Movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, that ended colonialism in India; the Civil Rights Movement, guided by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which put an end to racial segregation in the United States; the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, which gained its strength and final victory from a massive support by South Africa’s faith communities, including the Anglican Church, headed HH Archbishop Tutu; and more recently, the Jubilee 2000 Campaign, spearheaded by an ecumenical alliance that managed to generate much public and political attention for debt relief issues.

It is also a hopeful sign that over the past years, an increasing number of religious organizations have come together at major UN summits on sustainable development and climate change to appeal to political leaders to do good on their international commitments and bring the world on a sustainable course. At the Rio + 20 Summit in June 2012, faith-based organizations joined forces as an “unofficial 10th major group”. The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance seeks to build on this legacy that underscores that despite ongoing tensions between diverse religious groups in some parts of the world, the world’s religions are increasingly realizing that they desperately need each other to jointly create a world of peace and justice where nobody is being degraded. It is this increased readiness of the religions to collaborate for the common good that provides a major incentive to create this Global Alliance.

One of the major global challenges of today is the shameful fact that despite all massive economic progress achieved in many parts of the globe in the post WW-II era, over 780 million people worldwide lack access to water coming from an improved source, many more are lacking access to drinking water that can really be considered “clean” and safe for human consumption, and over 2.5 billion people live without access to adequate sanitation. The MDG on sanitation is among the goals where the least progress has been made. 2.6 billion people, more than 40% of the world population, do not use a toilet, but defecate in the open or in unsanitary places.[1] In India alone, 814 million men, women and children do not have access to toilets.[2]

Children are among the most vulnerable to diseases associated with a lack of WASH: UNICEF estimates that globally, 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoeal diseases and of these some 1,800 deaths a day are linked to water, sanitation and hygiene. This is the equivalent of 90 school buses filled with kindergarteners crashing every day.[3]

The lack of toilets can prove extremely embarrassing for women and girls in particular, placing them in harm’s way of predators, wildlife, and criminals. Many little girls won’t go to school simply because they lack the safety and privacy provided by enclosed toilet facilities.

In addition, survivors of natural disasters are at intensified risk for the transmission of deadly water-borne disease due to the lack of water, hygiene and sanitation. According to a report by the Pan American Health Organization, (PAHO/WHO), UNICEF, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, “Current challenges for the water and sanitation sector in the framework of the world’s Millennium Development Goals require an increase in sustainable access to water and sanitation services in marginal urban areas and rural areas, where natural hazards pose the greatest risk.”[4]

Keeping such needs at the forefront, The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance intends to draw inspiration from historical guideposts and modern advances to galvanize unprecedented collaborative action among the world’s religious and spiritual traditions, governments, international organizations, businesses, civil society organizations, indigenous communities and youth, to create a world where improved sanitation and safe drinking water will be in reach of every human being.

The time for this Global Alliance is now: with two years left to realize the MDG on water and sanitation and 7 years to reach the year 2020, we are embarking on a prophetic time path, sanctifying time to spark a global movement of unparalleled commitment and action aimed at providing water and sanitation for every member of the human family. In the words of Rabbi Soetendorp: “Every moment counts: we hold the doorknob in our hands, the door stands ajar. Millions and millions of children look towards us from the despair of preventable diseases, violence, enslavement, thist. Do we close or open the door? In the eyes of these children we meet the Holy Blessed Be He, the Master of the House, Who urges us to make the right choice, to save one human life and thus the whole world, every second.”

GIWA will advance its objectives by:

  • mobilizing religious leaders, faith-based organizations and, through them, the large number of people who belong to religious communities, re-enforcing the fundamental and inalienable human right to water and sanitation for all people everywhere;
  • inspiring religious organizations to use their facilities (such as houses of worship, hospitals and schools) to improve access to water and sanitation and protect aquifers for all members of the local communities in which they are operating;
  • engaging religious leaders and their communities as allies in Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Programmes and WASH training;
  • encouraging religious leaders to play an active role in holding governments at all levels accountable for their responsibilities to provide access to sanitation, safe drinking water, and waste management;
  • advocating with governments and other key stakeholders to take seriously their responsibilities to guarantee the human right to water and sanitation;
  • creating synergies among faith-based organizations, aid agencies and religious communities working on WASH;
  • documenting and mainstreaming good practices of faith-based WASH initiatives; and
  • engaging the religions in concrete projects and activities aimed at enhancing public health.

Background on MDG 7 – ensuring environmental sustainability.

One of the targets if this MDG is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

The world has met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, well ahead of the MDG 2015 deadline.

But the WHO/UNICEF joint report in 2012 further indicates the world is far from meeting the MDG target for sanitation – and is unlikely to do so by 2015.

  • Only 63 per cent of the global population has improved sanitation, far short of the 75 per cent target.
  • Every day, more than 3,000 children die from diarrhoeal diseases.
  • More than 780 million people still lack access to safe drinking water.

GIWA founding members include:

  • The Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values is a charitable foundation based in The Hague dedicated to the creation of better bridges between the cultures, religions and generations. It has been founded by Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, child survivor of WWII and President emeritus of the European Region of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. The Soetendorp Institute has a vast network of interfaith, ecumenical and civil society organizations built over Rabbi Soetendorp’s lifetime of striving for enhanced interfaith collaboration for peace, the eradication of poverty and environmental sustainability –
  • Ganga Action Parivar is an interfaith network bringing together the world’s preeminent researchers, environmentalists, engineers, religious and business leaders, as well as members of the general public working towards creating thoughtful solutions to the numerous problems plaguing the Ganga and its tributaries. Ganga Action Parivar has been founded by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, one of India’s most prominent spiritual voices. The Ganga Action Parivar is spearheading the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance –
  • The All India Imam Organization is the legitimate voice of the half a million Imams of India who happen to be the religious and spiritual guide of two hundred Million Indian Muslims. AIOIM is recognized in that capacity and role both at the national and international level. This is the largest Imam Organization in the world and is so uniquely placed that prominent national and global bodies belonging to all walks of life utilize its services –
  • The United Religions Initiative URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. URI implements its mission through local and global initiatives that build the capacity of our more than 525 member groups and organizations, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in community action such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights –
  • The Elijah Interfaith Institute is an international organization based in Jerusalem dedicated to fostering peace between the world’s diverse faith communities through interfaith dialogue, education, research and dissemination. The Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders brings together some of the world’s most prominent religious figures from Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and the Religions of India. The leaders they are involving (including the Dalai Lama, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Catholic Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia, among others) represent several hundred million people or more –
  • The Temple of Understanding has led the way in interfaith education and advocacy for over 50 years. ToU educates youth and adults both cross culturally and inter-religiously for global citizenship and peaceful coexistence; advocates for acceptance and respect for religious pluralism by the worlds governing bodies; and actively continue to promote justice and tolerance. The organization was founded in 1960 by a pioneering visionary, Juliet Hollister, with the support of a distinguished group of “Founding Friends,” which included Eleanor Roosevelt, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Sir Zafrula Khan, H.H. Pope John XXIII, Anwar al-Sadat and H.H. the XIVth Dalai Lama, among others –
  • The Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers represents a global alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children, and for the next seven generations to come. We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth and the destruction of indigenous ways of life. We believe the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future. We look to further our vision through the realization of projects that protect our diverse cultures: lands, medicines, language and ceremonial ways of prayer and through projects that educate and nurture our children –
  • YeyeOsun Institute of Sacred Balance & Humanity4Water Awards is dedicated to preserving, sustaining and protecting the ancient spirit of our waterways and earth. We are deeply inspired by the West African Water Mother Osun who symbolizes the birth and maintenance of a noble compassionate beautiful earth and waters. Awareness raising, sharing wisdom from the waters and indigenous green practices, international collaborations of leaders around the world, implementation of innovative sustainable solutions YeyeOsun ignites the dynamic spirit of activism within each individual to be the change they wish to see. Yeye Osun was founded by prominent eco conscious spiritual leaders Yeye Omileye Achikeobi-Lewis and Chief Olu Derrick Lewis –
  • Forum 21 Institute Forum 21 is a multidisciplinary research association focusing on the issues facing the world today. Forum 21 works with like-minded organizations and individuals toward developing a new paradigm in which people live and work by a new ethic and framework, using science, technology, and other aspects of human knowledge in a responsible and sustainable way, and at the same time respecting all humanity and its diverse cultures. Forum 21 supports research that addresses water-related issues such as sustainable and affordable water desalination that could help resolve the global crisis of water shortage –
  • International Research Institute of Relative Economics is a path breaking concept which evolved through deep study, rational thinking and brain storming. With the vision directed by his Holy Highness Acharya Mahapragya, (14 June 1920 – 9 May 2010) who was the tenth head of the Svetambar Terapanth school of Jainism, we are striving to establishing a New Thinking of Business Economics and it’s relationship with Human Life –
  • Foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland is a global online network with over 90.000 registered participants interested in various fields of applied ethics. It offers access to a large number of resources on ethics, especially through its leading global digital ethics library and facilitates collaborative web-based research, conferences, online publishing and information sharing. Our purpose as an organization is to create a culture of justice, peace, mutual understanding and sustainability for all living beings, and we recognize WASH as pivotal area of action to accomplish our mission –
  • Inner Sense focuses on coaching and training programs related to personal development, advanced leadership, and team development in business. Together with the Soetendorp Institute and Earth Charter Netherlands, Inner Sense organized “Wings for Water” – the multi-stakeholder dialogue on water hosted by the Dutch government in March 2013. Inner Sense is now working towards establishing the “Wings for Water”® international platform to bring together leaders from different sectors of society for fostering smart WASH solutions. The Wings for Water Platform will be a major organizational partner for GIWA –
  • The Ecumenical One World Initiative reaches into the churches and the German society for encouraging individuals to explore more just and responsible ways of living: ways of living that are based on dialogue, solidarity, simplicity and respect for nature. The EOWI is part of the One World with its wonderful diversity of flora and fauna, and of a humankind with all peoples, cultures, and religions. These two aspects are combined in the original Greek word oikoumene. The EOWI coordinates all activities related to the Earth Charter in Germany –
  • The United Church of Christ is – drawn together by the Holy Spirit – a distinct and diverse community of Christians that come together as one church, joining faith and action. In covenant with the church in all of its settings, we serve God in the co-creation of a just and sustainable world as made manifest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ –

Strategic Partners

  • The Ecumenical Water Network is an international network of churches and Christian organizations. The Secretariat of the Ecumenical Water Network is located at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. EWN facilitates an exchange of information and provides materials for churches, other Christian organizations, partners and individuals about the global water crisis and community-based solutions and initiatives. It also promotes and coordinates advocacy towards the recognition and implementation of the human right to water –
  • BRAC is a development organisation dedicated to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor to bring about change in their own lives. We were founded in Bangladesh in 1972 and over the course of our evolution, established ourselves as a pioneer in recognising and tackling the many different realities of poverty –
  • EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East is reaching out to Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith communities around the world to invite them all to work together to rehabilitate the river and its ecosystem. Education materials and resources are available for lay leaders and clergy, to learn and teach about the river and its importance for each of the three religions, as well as about the problem’s that impact the river and the real solutions that can be implemented through peaceful cooperation by those who live in the region. Environmental peacemaking in the Middle East can be achieved through the holy Jordan River –

Inspired by the Earth Charter

Inspired by the Earth Charter
The Earth Charter is a universal expression of ethical principles to foster sustainable development. The Earth Charter Initiative is the global network that embraces, uses and integrates the Earth Charter principles.The founding of GIWA is inspired by the Earth Charter –

For more information, please visit, as well as and contact Michael Slaby, GIWA Manager at the Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values at

[1] Meeting the MDG Drinking Water and Sanitation Target: the Urban and Rural Challenge of the Decade,” World Health Organization and UNICEF, 2006[2] WASH: UNICEF-WHO JMP 2010 Update, Census 2011

[3] UNICEF EAPRO Media Centre, “Children dying daily because of unsafe water supplies and poor sanitation and hygiene, UNICEF says,“ 22 March, 2013.

[4] THE CHALLENGE IN DISASTER REDUCTION FOR THE WATER AND SANITATION SECTOR: Improving Quality of Life by Reducing Vulnerabilities,“ Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), 2006