The environmental coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, considers the on-going drought emergency in Cape Town in the Lenten reflection.
The City of Cape Town is facing “Day Zero” – the unprecedented moment when engineers would turn off the taps to most householders. Nearly four million residents would queue daily to fetch daily rations of 25 litres. Each person must use no more than 50 litres (11 UK gallons) for washing, cooking, drinking. What have we learned from the drought?
Firstly we have learned about water injustice. Those members of our community who live in informal settlements and rural communities have always been living at Day Zero and nobody cared. Nobody offered to fly in bottled water, nobody noticed. You do not understand what water injustice is until you have to lift a container of 25 litres and you finally realise what the 2.5 billion people around the world have to compete with as they queue for dirty water, or carry water for miles from the nearest river. “Once you carry your own water you will learn the value of every drop”. Our cities and our world reflect the story of Ishmael and Isaac, where Ishmael was thrown out with his mother Hagar to die in the desert with only one skin of water, while Isaac had water to drink, and bathe and play in.
Secondly we are taught that water is sacred. When endless water comes to us through a tap we do not understood that water is precious. Water was present before God began the work of creation: “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” Gen 1:2. And just as the waters break before a child is born, each and everyone of us was baptised into the family of God through water. We are children of the water and water should be our sacred element. We are called to be the caretakers and keepers of water.
Thirdly we have learned to understand the word of God in a new way. Water is mentioned 722 times in the Bible and we never knew it. The people of Israel left Egypt – a land watered by efficient irrigation systems from the mighty Nile. They entered a land dependent on rain water for life. And water became for them the spiritual symbol of healing, cleansing, renewal and hope. “A well of water springing up to eternal life” has new meaning when you queue for clean fresh spring water which is free for everyone.
Fourthly we have learned that faced with a crisis we can make a difference. The Diocese of Cape Town is dedicating Lent to preach, pray and act about water. The Lenten course Water (In)Justice, created by the Revd Shaun Cozett, can be found here. Over the last year, households have halved their water use – with creative inventive ways. In a few months the drought will be over – but the larger challenge of climate change remains. We will face more and more frequent droughts if we do not act now. Let us harness that creative power that humans have in the face of a crisis and speed up the move to renewable energy and public transport. We are defeating the drought – fight climate change? Yes we can.
Through the drought may we become more compassionate world citizens of the world, and may we learn to hear the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth.
- Click here to download Water (In)Justice, the Diocese of Cape Town’s Lent course.