Water has no Enemy: The ethical value of access to water

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Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, SJ

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“Water has no enemy,” says a proverb often heard in southern Nigeria. Beside featuring in many aphorisms, water provides the inspiration for the naming of many people in that part of the world. For example, the full name of Ameze is Ameze i si ofo, meaning “fresh water doesn’t cause perspiration.” Amenaghawon is short for Amenaghawon i le s’omwan, meaning “the water reserved for you will never run from you” or “a person’s destiny is unique.” And Eze i mwen eghian literally translates as “the river has no enemy.” Another, Amenovbiye, metaphorically depicts water as a sibling in the manner of St. Francis of Assist: “sister water, brother water.”

More strikingly, this naming practice is reinforced by a communal spirituality that venerates water as a deity. This deity is incarnated in Olokun, the water goddess of abundance, fertility and prosperity, who in her aqueous essence regulates the biology and economics of life.

These basic but fundamental insights impose a moral responsibility on the global community to respectfully preserve and conserve, sustain and maintain, and protect and care for water bodies: wells and springs, fountains and streams, rivers and lakes, on which without exception we all depend for sustenance and survival.

Pope Francis confirms this belief in Laudato Si’ (LS): Water “is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Sources of fresh water are necessary for health care, agriculture and industry” (LS 28).

Beyond reverence, the sum of this spirituality of deference toward water consists in the realization formulated by Christiana Peppard, Professor of Theology, Science and Ethics at Fordham University (USA), who affirms that fresh water “is both sui generis and a sine qua non for human beings and ecosystems.”[1]

From the deep wells of the traditional nomenclature springs the incontrovertible truth that – similar to the body of our planet – “we human beings are watery, embodied creatures; like most other living things, we depend on water for survival.”[2] Whether we admit it or not, fluidity and liquidity constitute our being on which is inscribed the attendant crisis of water scarcity and security, availability and accessibility, conflict and contestation, pollution and control.

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