Global Interfaith WASH Alliance launched at UNICEF House

29 September 2013

"If 90 school busses filled with kindergarten children were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice.  But that is precisely what happens every day because of poor water, sanitation and hygiene."    This quote from UNICEF shows the immediate need for the WASH program.  

Patrick Nickisch, URI's UN Geneva Representative, helped The Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values launch the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) this week with UNICEF. He invited URI to participate in the launch. URI Global Council Chair Kiran Bali came from the UK.  Swamini Adityananda Saraswati came from India.  She and Patrick are the founders of the new Multiregion Interfaith WASH CC.  Audrey Kitagawa, Martha Gallahue and Monica Willard, URI UN Representatives in NY also attended.  The launch included the Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lakes and the former President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, who is now the Chair of Water and Sanitation for All.  

The press release below shares some of the importance of this program. Thank you Patrick for providing this opportunity for URI.  May GIWA inspire WASH programs by other CCs and help connect URI to UNICEF in new ways. 

PRESS RELEASE – September 25th 2013 

Temples to Toilets: First Global Interfaith Initiative to Promote Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Launched at UNICEF House 

The first global interfaith initiative to promote safe water, sanitation and hygiene was launched today. The partnership will bring together faith-based organizations committed to tackling pressing social problems that impede the health and rights of children around the world. 

The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, or GIWA, envisions a water-secure world in which safe and sustainable drinking water and improved sanitation will be accessible to all by the year 2020. An estimated 5 billion people across the world are members of religious communities, underscoring the critical role religious leaders can play in addressing seemingly intractable problems - such as access to safe water and sanitation. 

Lack of adequate sanitation is a global crisis directly impacting health, education, productivity and economic status. Every day diarrhea - the second largest killer of children under five in the developing world - claims over 1600 young lives. 

"Our world has lost millions of beautiful children due to poor water, hygiene and sanitation," said Pujya Swamiji, GIWA co-founder and President & Spiritual Head of Parmarth Niketan Ashram. "Today, leaders of the world's faiths are saying, enough." 

"Clean water and sanitation should not be a distant dream for children and communities," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. "They should be a reality. And this alliance can help bring their dreams much closer." Religious communities are already an indispensable partner for UNICEF in advancing children's rights and enhancing their well-being. In terms of promoting water and sanitation efforts, partners of GIWA can point to significant achievements, among them: 

  • Ganga Action Parivar (GAP), bringing together the faiths of India to protect and restore the Ganga River, which is polluted by some 2 billion litres of sewage and 1 billion litres of toxic chemicals daily. GAP provides and promotes sanitation, potable water, tree plantations, public awareness programmes and more. 

  • The "Islam and Water" education programme supported by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation which is creating water awareness among Muslim communities in several countries. 

  • Imam Ilyasi, Chief Imam of India and President of the All India Imam Organization announced the development of a WASH training involving over 500,000 imams in India. 

  • The Ecumenical Water Network of the World Council of Churches, which is working with 349 churches and Christian organizations worldwide to facilitate an exchange of information on the world's water crisis. 

Expanding access to sanitation and eliminating open defecation can save lives and reduce cases of diarrhoea in children under five by over a third. Yet two years shy of the Millennium Development Goals deadline, only 64 percent of the global population has improved sanitation, far short of the 75 per cent MDG target. And while the international community has reached its MDG water target, more than 768 million people still lack access to improved drinking water sources. 

Safe drinking water and improved sanitation not only reduce diarrhoea and stunting, but they are often the catalyst that can propel a family out of poverty. They are basic human rights as well as foundations upon which healthy and productive societies may thrive. Without them, children cannot survive and communities cannot grow and prosper. Investing in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, therefore is an investment in the health and livelihoods of future generations. 

"We are called to sanctify time and dedicate the next 7 years, every hour, every second to the provision of clean water and improved sanitation," said Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, GIWA co-founder and President and Founder of the Institute for Human Values. "Living water will be in reach of the whole community of life and thus hope will propel us to action." 

The seed for the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance was planted earlier this year at "Wings for Water," a multi-stakeholder dialogue held in The Hague in advance of the World Water Day celebrations. Included among GIWA's founding partners are: Institute for Human Values (The Netherlands), Ganga (Ganges) Action Parivar, (India), Elijah Interfaith Institute (Israel), the All India Organization of Imams of Mosques, the Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, the Ecumenical One World Initiative (Germany), and Inner Sense (The Netherlands). 

In order to achieve its goal to fulfill the MDGs and achieve a water secure world by 2020, GIWA will bring together faith-based organizations, aid agencies and religious communities working on WASH; mainstream good practices of faith-based WASH initiatives; engage the world's religions in advocacy work to ensure that governments take seriously their responsibilities to guarantee the human right to water and sanitation; and spearhead concrete actions to enhance public health by promoting Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS). GIWA's aim is to empower religious and spiritual communities to take action on WASH and bring a spirit of collaboration and compassion into existing networks and planned international events on WASH. 

For further information, please contact: 

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati Press Liaison of GIWA and the Ganga Action Parivar at sadhviji [at]  


Michael Slaby, GIWA Manager at the Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values: mslaby [at] Cell: +49 171 5256908 


Monica Willard 

United Religions Initiative  

United Nations NGO Representative 

 International Day of Peace (Sept 21) 

NGO Committee at United Nations, Co-Chair