"You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.” [Psalm 65:9]
We recently heard the good news that water consumption in Cape Town has dropped below the 800 million litres per day. It is gratifying that the majority of people have responded to the call to reduce the daily use of water. Thank you to all those who have done so, but we know that this is not sufficient and more effort is still needed.
Water is life, although those who can just turn on a tap to access water may fail to grasp this. Those who struggle for water and have to draw it from springs or rivers appreciate it more. It is only when people go through severe drought and the taps run dry that urban dwellers become more serious about saving water. In the Western Cape we are only weeks away from that and we are dependent on the winter rains for our future well-being, even though some alternative sources could be tapped in the future. We run the risk of living “in a dry weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1).
We pray that the all-important rains will come soon, but we cannot afford to be over-confident and so we must do everything we can to conserve our falling supplies. Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter Laudato Si reminds us that “safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights” (LS 30). As Catholics, we should not only increase our efforts to conserve water but also give an example to our fellow citizens. We know what we should be doing – the authorities remind us of this daily in the media – but we should also save water in every possible way, from how we wash our cars to how we clean our teeth!
The present drought is a sign of the times, challenging us to be good stewards of the precious water which is the source of our physical and sacramental life. As believers, we have something special to offer in the crisis – a powerful spiritual motivation which can inspire us to save, share and use this vital resource justly. This divine motivation enables us to avoid selfishness and moves and graces us to act consistently, joyfully and generously so that once again we will be able, with joy, to ‘draw water from the wells of salvation’ (Is 12:3). Hence, we have an opportunity to show that our social teaching makes a difference for all, especially for the most disadvantaged and the elderly. Let us therefore bear witness to our fellow citizens that we truly care for the common good and ‘strengthen the conviction that we are one single family’ (LS 52).
We must also pray for rain and that, even when the dams start filling up, we have the strength of will to make the long-term efforts that are still necessary to be faithful stewards. We must pray that we will resist the temptation to return to the careless use of water, and so I encourage parish pastoral councils, priests, deacons and religious to take on a visible and sustainable water-conserving project such as a grey water system, or roof-tanks for the church, presbytery or Religious House.
It is clear that care and conservation of water, and other resources, will become the new “normal” in this era of climate change and this could well result in tensions in our society. We must give encouragement to Civic authorities to lead courageously in the difficult task ahead of discerning how water will be shared between households, agriculture and business. What is clear is that “extreme consumerism”, as Pope Francis calls it, must swiftly end.
The present crisis is asking us to dig even more deeply into our spiritual, intellectual and organisational resources to ensure that water continues to be life not only for us but for our children’s children. May we all respond generously to this call.
Archbishop of Cape Town