Written by Anna Sipek
Gathered together, the participants breathe in sync, their exhales, waves crashing on the beach. The meditation leader prompts them to inhale once more, reminding all of the cyclical nature of both water and existence. On March 24th-25th, the Tzu Chi Center hosted a Multi-Day UN Water Conference side event, Water for Healing, Justice and Action: Building Blocks of a New Resiliency Paradigm, in collaboration with AHAM Education and SCEN. The event brought together activists, experts, and spiritual leaders from around the world to fight for the sanctity of water.
Industrialization, colonization, pollution, and privatization all continue to play a role in the degradation of our limited water supply. As countries around the world continue to put profit over people, we have seen an increase in tainted water supplies. This backwards prioritization doesn’t end at the national level. The UN too is guilty of it, as 7 Directions of Service co-founder Jason Keck noted, “it’s give ‘em 5 minutes while Coca-Cola has an hour.”
While some may believe enough money will be able to buy their way out of dealing with contaminated water, the truth is everyone is impacted by the water crisis.
“If we think that if we are presidents, ministers, we are not affected by water,” affirmed Emily Miki, Cameroonian activist, “this is foolish.” There’s plenty of evidence to back this up. PFAs, a group of cancer causing chemicals produced by manufacturing processes, have infiltrated most water sources, and the blood of nearly all Americans.
At the end of the day, what happens to our water supply happens to all of us. As many pointed out throughout the course of the conference, we all are so dependent on water that humanity and water are virtually inextricable, and it might be time to start recognizing that.
“We think ourselves not apart from nature,” said Wildres Wood, an Indigenous activist from the Miskito tribe. “We are the same.” This perspective, called eco-affinity, has the potential to completely alter many people’s relationship with the natural world, from one based on extraction and capitalist profiteering, to one of fond mutual respect.
“We ask permission to hunt, to fish, to take plants,” explained Wood. Recognizing the inherent value and personhood of nature is something many indigenous tribes partake in, and oftentimes leads to a more eco-friendly stance.
“[Indigenous peoples] recognize as a whole that we have to reject these things that are killing us,” said Crystal Cavalier-Keck, co-Founder of 7 Directions of Service.
Seemingly unanimously, the panelists agreed, it is time to decrease production and consumption, in favor of a more sustainable, earth and people friendly existence.
“We are immersed in this paradigm that we believe growth is good. Growth is good. Growth is acceptable,” said Piero Falci, a long-time author and educator. “[But] What exactly is growth? It’s the growth of production, the growth of consuming. We need to promote ideas such as ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘less is more.’”
After many long discussions, joyful meals, and meditative gatherings, the panelists, organizers, and activists gathered one last time in the rain to celebrate water and connection. Once more they breathed in, and out, another wave crashing on the beach.