GIWA’s Worship to WASH Summit of Leaders

Historic WASH Summit inaugurated in Rishikesh to save lives of children
NOVEMBER 29-30, 2014

Today marked a landmark moment in the history of India. Some of the most renowned leaders and greatest minds across the globe have come together and joined hands in the “Worship to WASH” Summit of Leaders, organized by the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance at Parmarth Niketan (Rishikesh) with the technical support of UNICEF. WASH stands for Water, Sanitation & Hygiene.

History is being created here on the banks of the Ganges through the joint effort, experience, and expertise of renowned leaders of all faiths from across India as well as from the US, England, Europe, Australia and Africa, leaders of social organizations, NGOs, political leaders and celebrities.

The Summit was inaugurated today in a historic event attended by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Shri Harish Rawatji, and more than 200 renowned leaders.

Speaking on the occasion the Chief Minister Mr. Harish Rawat said that the launch of the WASH revolution today was an auspicious beginning and had the potential to transform India into a clean, green and healthy nation. Welcoming some of the most renowned faith leaders from across the globe to Uttarakhand, the land of the Gods, the Chief Minister lauded Swami Chidanand Saraswati for launching this historic transformational initiative. He committed the full support of his administration to this noble task.

Congratulating Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji for starting the Ganga of Insaniyat (humanity), the Chief Minister stressed the importance of the Clean India campaign whether called Nirmal Bharat or Swachh Bharat. He said he has asked the Prime Minister to accept the importance of Uttarakhand in the water issues of India and has asked for Rs. 10,000 crore in phases. He said our Constitution is as secular as the Ganga who makes no distinction.

Mr. Rawat said if one lakh ponds are constructed by the people and the government together it would revive dried up rivulets in the state. Uttarakhand would be the only state to offer green bonus and water bonus for planting trees and constructing ponds respectively, he said.

Co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) and President of Parmarth Niketan, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji said, “It is great that we can send shuttles to space but let us also create space here for WASH. While government can make bills, interfaith leaders can change dills (hearts). The time has come that we must not only worship the Creator but also its creation, and interfaith leaders now must come forward to charter innovative ways of spirituality. The ‘Worship to WASH’ revolution is a powerful symbol of such a collective and innovative approach that will clean and purify not only our outer environment but our inner environment also.”, he said.

Pujya Swamiji further explained that GIWA was launched, therefore, to bring together faith leaders and galvanise collaborative action among and between them and others like central and state governments, international organisations, industry, civil society organisations, indigenous communities, celebrities and youth to launch a WASH Revolution. He called upon faith leaders to come forward to charter innovative ways of spirituality. “The ‘Worship to WASH’ revolution is a powerful symbol of such a collaborative and innovative approach that will clean and purify not only our outer environment but also our inner environment.”

Dr. Kalbe Sadiq Sahib, world renowned Islamic scholar and leader, said the message must go out from every mosque to observe individual and community cleanliness, he said, citing the example of Prophet Mohammad who maintained such high standards of cleanliness that no fly could be seen around Him. He express sadness to see the rivers that Indians worshipped so polluted whereas the rivers in Europe and US are so clean.

Maulana Luqman Tarapuri, Regional President of Global Imam Council, congratulated Swami Chidanand Saraswati for launching this initiative. He said, “Every religion lays such great stress on internal and external cleanliness, purity and respect for nature, including water and soil. I also pledge to bring all Imams together to spread and share this vital message of WASH with our communities and in our homes. We must end open defecation, save and purify our water sources, teach our children to wash hands with soap before every meal”

Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid, from Chicago, Chairman of the Parliament of World Religions, expressed great joy at seeing the unprecedented gathering of faith leaders from across the globe not only for discussing high philosophy and spirituality but also for active spiritual action on something as basic for human health and dignity as WASH. He called it the opening of a new path of collective social leadership on the part of faith leaders. He also said that “Pujya Swamiji’s initiative and message are for every human in the world.”

Imam Umar Ilyasi, President of All India Imam Organisation, lauded the launch of GIWA through the efforts of Swami Chidanand Saraswati Ji and praised the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for starting the Swachh Bharat movement. He said 5.50 lakh mosques and 7.50 lakh temples, and all the churches and gurudwaras can bring about a real revolution if all of us join the Worship to WASH revolution.

Dr. Kiran Bali, Global Chair of United Religions Initiative said: “I am so glad to see that the religious leaders gathered here today are pledging to lead by example. They will translate words into actions, beginning with the cleaning, clean water and toilets at their place of worship. This will create a domino effect.”

Dr Deepika Singh, Director of Programmes, Religions for Peace said the “Now is time for faith leaders to not only talk about WASH but also to give a platform to make it even more important. At Religions for Peace we know that peacebuilding comes not only from transforming conflicts but also from enabling a more just and humane society and protecting the Earth. Together, I am confident we can work together, united.”

Louis George Arsenault, UNICEF Representative to India said UNICEF was extremely happy to partner with GIWA. Underlining the immense transformative powers of faith, he hoped that GIWA would set a new example of global faith leadership for social transformation. He added, “This is an extraordinary day that we have leaders working together for children and sustainable outcomes for WASH. Faith leaders give us the extraordinary opportunity to influence the mind-sets on WASH. We are so grateful to religious leaders for coming together. The challenges are huge but we can do it together.”

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, South Africa expressed deep anguish at the human suffering caused by poor WASH and said it was the duty of the faith leaders to strive for social uplift of their communities, and WASH was a remarkable way of that. He cited examples of faith leaders leading great social movements.

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary General of GIWA, said, “Can you imagine if someone held up 40 busloads of kindergarteners on their way to school and shot them dead? Then can you imagine if the killer did the same thing EVERY DAY? The entire world community would come together to find and stop the ruthless killer. That ruthless killer is lack of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, which kills approximately 1200 children under the age of five, in India, every day! We must join hands and work together to stop this, just as if someone were shooting these children on their way to school.” The call going out today from this platform was for the leaders of the world’s faiths who have so far been focusing on prayers, peace, moksha, salvation and meditation to now also focus on saving lives through WASH, she said. India leads the world in information technology but sadly also in the number of children dying every day of preventable diseases due to lack of sanitation, it leads the world in open defecation and of under-five mortality rate among rates. Faith leaders have come together to bridge this gap, she added.

Prof. Manjit Singhji, former Chief Jathedar, Akal Takht said: “Today is the day that we all must take the pledge. When people don’t take inspiration from their spiritual gurus, their minds go in the wrong direction. I appeal to everyone to fulfill and support the program initiated by Pujya Swamiji. The message should be spread to all Gurudwaras.”

* * * * * *
After the inauguration a beautiful “Water Blessing Ceremony” took place in which the leaders ceremonially poured water onto a globe, praying that all people in all parts of the world should have access to clean, safe and sufficient water.

After lunch, working sessions took place in which the leaders were specifically and technically introduced to the initiative by Sue Coates, director of WASH for UNICEF India and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati the Secretary-General of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance. Then, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji led the leaders in forming pledges of their own.

After extensive dialogue the leaders all stated their personal pledges / sankalps and resolved to take the message of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) to their congregations and followers, embracing the spirit of Swachh Bharat campaign so that homes and communities across India can have improved access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

The leaders signed a declaration at the end of the discussion sessions, committing themselves to be part of GIWA and take up the message of WASH and turn it into a revolution in order to save millions of children and families from death, diseases and stunting.

The United Nations has placed great emphasis on WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) both in its Millennium Development Goals of 2000-2015 as well as its upcoming Sustainable Development Goals beginning in 2015. This is the first time that faith leaders have come together in an alliance to support this mission of the United Nations’.

In addition to renowned faith leaders from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain, Sikh, Jewish, Farsi and Ba’hai faiths, the Summit also witnessed the presence of the heads of several renowned interfaith organizations based in the US, including the head of the Parliament of World Religions (where Swami Vivekanandji spoke in 1893 in Chicago).

The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance was co-founded by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, the President of Parmarth Niketan Ashram and Founder of Ganga Action Parivar. It was founded to inspire the leaders of the world’s religions to come together in the name of providing improved Water, Sanitation and Hygiene to everyone.

GIWA was launched globally on 25 September, 2013 at UNICEF headquarters during the United Nations General Assembly week, sponsored by the Governments of the Netherlands and USAID. GIWA’s mission is to save lives by initiating and accelerating WASH projects worldwide, beginning with India. Religious communities have a proven track record of success in promoting WASH globally.

Speaking about the importance of this initiative, the following statements were made by the team from UNICEF:

India WASH Chief, Sue Coates said, “The engagement of faith leaders opens the way for millions of people to hear about good WASH practices as part of their accepted way of living through belief and religion.”

Advocacy and Communication Chief, Caroline den Dulk highlighted that religion was an important influence in India in this light, “Partnership with faith based organisations and faith leaders is critical to ensure change in social norms connected with sanitation and hygiene. There are powerful examples of partnership with them globally. They can be immensely powerful advocacy and change agents as was seen in the case of eradication of polio in India. Their taking up the WASH Revolution is likely to produce remarkable results for children in India.

Nearly 60 crore Indians defecate in the open every day, the largest in the world. This includes 69 % of the rural and 18 % of the urban population. In six major states over 80% population defecated in the open, including 92% in Jharkhand. India has the highest number of diarrhoeal deaths among children under five. Almost 88% of these deaths are directly due to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and unhygienic practices. Nearly 1200 under-five children die every day from diarrhea and pneumonia. India also has 61 million stunted children, and 43% of children under-five are underweight. Nearly 80% of all diseases and 25% of all deaths in nations such as India are due to polluted water.

Speakers at the Summit included,

  • Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, Founder Ganga Action Parivar, Co-Founder GIWA, President of Parmarth Niketan
  • Imam Luqman Tarapuri-a Deobandi Alim, from Gujarat, Regional President of Global Imam Council
  • Dr. Kalbe Sadiq Sahib, Vice President of the Muslim Personal Law Board
  • Diwan Zainul Abedin Ali Khan, Ajmer Sharif Shrine
  • Shri Abdul Malik Mujahid, Chairman, Council for Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago, USA
  • Mr. Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF Representative to India, from Quebec, Canada
  • Prof Manjit Singh, Anandpur Singh Gurudwara, Former Jathedar of Akal Takht
  • Swami Madhavpriyadasji, Head of Shree Swaminarayan Gurukul, Rajkot and Ahmedabad
  • Father Dominic Emmanuel, Spokesperson for the Catholic Dicocese
  • Archbishop Thabo Makgoba , Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa
  • Ms. Deepika Singh, Director of Programs – Religions for Peace, New York, USA
  • Imam Umar Ilyasi, President All India Imam Organization
  • Rabbi Awraham Soentendorp, Rabbi from the Netherlands and founder of the Jacob-Soetendorp Institute
  • Lama Lobsang, National Commission of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
  • Venerable Bhikkhu Sanghasena Mahatheraji, from Ladakh
  • Acharya Lokesh Muniji, President of Ahmisa Vishwa Bharti
  • Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary- General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance & President of Divine Shakti Foundation
  • Ms. Kiran Bali, Global Chair, United Religions Initiative
  • Ms. Deepika Singh, Program Director, Religions for Peace
  • Shri Nirankar Saxena, Senior Director, FICCI
  • Shri S. Radhakrishnan, DRDO
  • Dr. Binny Sareen, Brahma Kumaris, from Mt. Abu
  • Premchand Agarwal, MLA
  • NS Bindra, Chairman Minorities Commission
  • and many more.
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