Faith and Ecology

GLOBAL INTERFAITH WASH ALLIANCE, Co-sponsored by Temple of Understanding at UNICEF in 2013, From Temples to Toilets, A Project in India to Supply Clean Water, Hygiene, & Toilets

Background on the Power of Partnering with Religious Leaders and CommunitiesAdvancing A Promise Renewed

It is estimated that 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.

Civil society organizations made strong commitments to help accelerate the goals of A Promise Renewed presented during the June 2012 Child Survival Call to Action on ending preventable child deaths.  More than 220 faith-based organizations signed an APR pledge promising to advocate for and take action on maternal, newborn and child survival. Essential strategies to reduce child mortality include efforts to improve access to safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene.  Religious communities have a proven track record of success in promoting WASH-focused efforts globally.  It is, therefore, a natural progression for an interfaith partnership to develop with a strong emphasis on helping realize the MDG on water and sanitation.

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.

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.

Overview of the GIWA Launch on 25 September 2013, 3:30-5:30pm (Labouisse Hall, UNICEF House)


  • Launch the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance and expand its base of support.
  • Create synergy between A Promise Renewed and GIWA, amplifying shared messages and advancing shared goals and objectives on child survival.
  • Influence high-level leaders (government, civil society, private sector) present during the UNGA about GIWA’s potential to powerfully contribute to the creation of a WASH-secure world and help realize the MDG on sanitation and water.
  • Strongly link GIWA to on-going United Nations initiatives on the MDGs and post-2015 framework, including:
  • The Call to Action on Sanitation, a major initiative on global sanitation launched on 21 March 2013 by the UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, calling for urgent action to put WASH at the top of the political agenda.
  • Sanitation and Water for All – a global partnership between developing countries, donors, multi-lateral agencies, civil society and other development partners working together to achieve universal and sustainable access to sanitation and drinking water, with an immediate focus on achieving the Millennium Development Goals in the most off-track countries. In his call to action on sanitation, Jan Eliasson pointed to the SWA as a key platform for action.
  • Generate strong media attention for the GIWA.

Expected outcomes

  • Launch an effective long-term partnership between GIWA and UNICEF and clearly establish its important role in accelerating the achievement of the water and sanitation MDGs.
  • Strengthen the alliance of religious actors around water and sanitation and send a strong signal about the critical role of religious leaders and communities in addressing the world’s most intractable problems.
  • Demonstrate increased traction for the A Promise Renewed global movement at international and national levels by harnessing the collective power of civil society.


With potential government sponsorship, the event will consist of a moderated discussion launching GIWA, including its partnership with UNICEF, followed by an interactive Q&A session with the audience. The launch may also feature video messages of His Holiness, the XIV Dalai Lama and His Holiness, Pope Francis on the importance of GIWA and the urgency of a water secure world with access for all.  Panelists include:

  • UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake
  • Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, The Netherlands, President and Founder, Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values and co-founder of GIWA.
  • Swami Chidanand Saraswati, President and Spiritual Head of Parmarth Niketan Ashram,

Rishikesh, one of the largest spiritual institutions in India and co-founder of GIWA.

  • Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, India, Chief Imam of India & President, All India Imam Organization, the world’s largest organization of imams with half a million members providing religious and spiritual guidance to two hundred million Muslims across India.
  • A senior representative of the Holy See or World Council of Churches (tbc).
  • 12-year-old award-winning environmental champion and international speaker Xihutezcatl Martinez, founder of the “Earth Guardians” from Boulder, Colorado.
  • A female youth activist from Africa (name tbc).
  • Government Representatives (tbc)

The launch will be preceded by a workshop, taking place on the morning of the same day, targeting 80 to 100 religious and spiritual leaders, as well as leaders of faith-based organizations and other relevant civil society organizations. Participants will share good practice examples of faith-based initiatives on WASH and discuss on specific WASH-related topics. Moreover, the workshop will aim to expand the Alliance’s membership and support, and adopt a 3-Year Plan.

GIWA founding partners

  • Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values, The Hague, Netherlands.

The Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values is a charitable foundation dedicated to the creation of better bridges between the cultures, religions and generations, 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 (Ganges) Action Parivar, Rishikesh, India.

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 Interfaith WASH Alliance.

  • Elijah Interfaith Institute, Jerusalem, Israel.

The Elijah Interfaith Institute is an international organization 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. It can be considered the highest interfaith body existing today, especially as 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.

  • The All India Organization of Imams of Mosques, the umbrella organization for over 500,000 Imams in India.
  • The United Religions Initiative, the world’s largest grass-root interfaith organization with more than 500 local interfaith chapters in over 80 countries:
  • The Temple of Understanding, which is one of the world’s oldest interfaith organizations, based in New York City:
  • The Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, a global alliance of prayer and action bringing together 13 wise women leaders from different indigenous traditions, with many contacts to indigenous networks and communities around the world:
  • The Ecumenical One World Initiative, Germany was established in the mid 1970s with the aim to facilitate a movement towards a sustainable lifestyle. 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.
  • Inner Sense,The Netherlands.

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.

Faith and Ecology

RIO+20, 17 JUNE, 2012

Interfaith Response to Sustainable Development: A Vision of Ecological Civilization by Sr. Joan Kirby, Main United Nations Representative

The Temple of Understanding presented a Side Event together with co-sponsors at the Rio+20 Conference. Rabbi Soetendorp, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Sr. Jayanti and Joan Kirby were panelists and Grove Harris moderated.


What does religion have to do with sustainable development? The Interfaith Consortium for Ecological Civilization works toward the transformation of consciousness needed to make necessary life-style changes to assure sustainability. Religions help people shape their worldview and and act on their values.

Governments need the guidance of an awakened civil society to make radical changes. Corporations need an awakened civil society that will insist on a sustainable consumption. Inspired by the work of Thomas Berry CSP and the world’s religions, this presentation explored the spiritual resources for transformation and current manifestations of such transformation.

Rabbi Soetendorp’s representative, Michael Slaby, spoke of Juliet Hollister’s vision–different faiths working for justice, which includes eighty percent of the world’s population today. It is religion’s duty to mend and heal the world. The message throughout the conference was do not wait for governments to write laws to save the earth. We count on religions to shape human behavior by speaking to and educating hearts. We spiritual beings are writing earth consciousness into our hearts.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya, a network of seed keepers in India, asked for right action by pointing in the direction of:

  1. Open Source SEEDS to be collected at all religious sites thus forming Community Seed Banks, an appropriate way to respect God’s creation. Seeds are God’s creation; we need to protect them;
  2. Resistance to Monsanto GMO’s, genetically modified organisms, (or “God Move Over” according to Shiva) that replace God’s creative action. Religions can express respect and reverence for the SEED by saying what is right and what is wrong;
  3. Open Dialogue without subservience. Let us join hands, People of Faith know the importance of networking to get the work done – we cannot do it alone.

Sister Jayanti, Brahma Kumaris Director, invited us to return to the spiritual awareness needed to change consciousness. We are stewards and trustees of the sanctity of creation. When we act from the heart and speak from the heart we will change the heart of the “other.”

Inspired thus to speak from the heart, we agreed to network with Global Transition Movements and the Widening Circle as important methods to move a civil society motivated by religion. Reports on RIO 2012 are available – click here


In Memory of Wangari Mutu Maathai (1940 – 2011)
Alison Van Dyk

The Temple of Understanding Board of Trustees is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of a great leader of the International Environmental Movement, and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Wangari Muta Maathai. I first met Dr. Maathai in 1988 at the co-sponsored Temple of Understanding and Forum for Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders Conference in Oxford, UK . But it was not until years later when she came to New York that Board member Mary Davidson and friend, Daniel Martin and others informally introduced me to her. This was the early 1990’s when the GBM was building support by organizing trips to Africa.

Although I was not able to go on one of those trips, I was impressed by Wangari’s keen insight into the relationship between poverty and environmental degradation. She had a way of cutting to the essential core of every issue and acting on them: women’s rights as they are related to planting trees for instance. At the TOU, we are carrying on Wangari’s inspiration to create an ethical framework for sustainable development deliberations at the United Nations.

In 2001 Wangari agreed to be a Hollister Award recipient. The event was scheduled for 9-11-01 so Wangari was in New York when the Twin Towers were hit. The energy and grief of that day was devastating but Wangari, who always looked for the silver lining in any situation, was glad that she could be there for a friend who lost a son in one of the towers.

Our Hollister Award Ceremony was rescheduled for 2002. We honored both Dr. Wangari Maathai and Dr. Thomas Berry. Looking back on this event, I realize that we were so fortunate to have brought together two luminaries of the environmental movement. I am quite certain that Wangari’s work, like Tom’s, will grow and strengthen as more people learn about the Green Belt Movement after her passing.

To me, Wangari was truly an enlightened soul whose presence illuminated each of us with a desire to return to our roots, to nature and to that which sustains us. She had a presence that touched everyone who met her, enabling them to see their own path a little more clearly. May she rest in Peace.

Commit to Action – Join the Billion Tree Campaign!

The Billion Tree Campaign is a worldwide tree planting initiative facilitated by the United Nations Environment Programme

Click to go to the UNEP site

About the Billion Tree Campaign Commit to Action:
Under the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign, people, communities, organizations, business and industry, civil society and governments are being encouraged to plant trees and enter their tree planting pledges on this web site. The objective is to plant at least one billion trees worldwide each year.

The idea for the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign was inspired by Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate for 2004 and founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, which has planted more than 30 million trees in 12 African countries since 1977.  When a corporate group in the United States told Professor Maathai it was planning to plant a million trees, her response was: “That’s great, but what we really need is to plant a billion trees.” Click for more information


2011 is the International Year of Forests

From the UNEP site: “Forests cover one third of the earth’s land mass, performing vital functions around the world. In fact, 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. They play a key role in our battle against climate change. Forests feed our rivers and are essential to supplying the water for nearly 50% of our largest cities, including New York, Jakarta and Caracas. They help to regulate the often devastating impact of storms and floods.

Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Forests also provide shelter, jobs and security for forest-dependent populations.

Yet despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, we are destroying the very forests we need to survive. Global deforestation continues at an alarming rate — 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually, equal to the size of Portugal.

But it’s not too late to transform business as usual into a future where forests are at the heart of our sustainable development and green economies. An investment of US$30 billion fighting deforestation could provide a return of US$2.5 trillion in saved products and services. Furthermore, targeted investments in forestry could generate up to millions of jobs around the world. Already, many leaders are glimpsing the potential for renewable energy and nature-based assets, but for forest transformation to happen, forests need to become a universal political priority.” Click for more information please visit

ECO – Justice NOW
By Joan Kirby, RSCJ

Dr. Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate, Hollister Award Recipient and TOU International Council Member.

Climate change is already affecting the United States – the poor in Louisiana are still recovering from Katrina, Texans lost homes during hurricane Ike, and many Californians lost everything during mudslides and fires. Los Angeles may be out of water in twenty years and, with a sea level rise of one meter, most of the mid-Atlantic coastal wetlands from New York to North Carolina will be lost. Increasingly heavy downpours, rising temperatures and sea levels, thawing permafrost, longer ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows are all danger signs. (Source: US Global Research Program)

It is time to cry out loudly for ECO-Justice. 
For more information see:
Click to read Wangari Maathai’s Letter to World Civil Society

  • Begin by acknowledging that, because the world’s richest nations have contributed more to climate change, we have a greater responsibility to take action – and to do it quickly.
  • Recognize the devastating impacts on women, children, and indigenous peoples in developing nations. They did not cause the climate crisis, yet they are suffering more from draught and flooding.
  • It is time to call on Congress and the Administration to respect human rights and to take action to reduce risks to vulnerable populations. Do not allow the Senate to defer discussion of the Environmental legislation crucial to U.S. acceptance of responsibility. Court cases and industrial innovations are positive signs, but we need a genuine transformation through legislation.

Our life style has to change as well. It is time for us to drive hybrid cars, to fly less frequently, to compost
and recycle our trash, to enjoy three-minute showers, and to avoid bottled water.

And it is time to remember our connection to those who will follow us. If we ignore the changes in climate, the developing world and generations of children and grand children will suffer the consequences.
For the sake of our humanity, it is time for ECO-Justice.

Joan Kirby, RSCJ, a representative to the United Nations from the Temple of Understanding in New York City, works closely with the U.N. on the Millennium Development Goals to eradicate poverty in the world. She attended the 2010 Climate Conference in Copenhagen and agreed to speak out in HEART about this critical issue because unless we have a stable environment, clean air, and sufficient water – other issues of social justice are moot.

Collaborations with Charter of Compassion

Collaborations with Earth Charter

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s speech, as prepared for delivery, to a Summit of Religious and Secular Leaders on Climate Change, in London: ‘YOU CAN – AND DO – INSPIRE PEOPLE TO CHANGE,’ SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS, ENCOURAGING SUMMIT OF RELIGIOUS, SECULAR LEADERS ON CLIMATE CHANGE TO ‘MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD’. Read the speech