A Rocha is a Christian conservation organisation working towards the protection and restoration of the natural world. Its mission is presented as a response to a biblical imperative to protect the world God made and entrusted to human care. Its International News issues provide an alternative medium in which to read about ecological challenges and how these intersect with religion. The below extract is taken from an issue focused upon water, where water is used to elevate the connection between man and nature, and their mutual interdependence.
‘Water is life’ seems the best way to sum up what water means to humans and other creatures. Water makes up 70-90% of all living cells. We are born in water, we drink it, wash in it, use it for transport, irrigation, recreation, food gathering and hydro-electric power. Water has a central place in all of the world’s major religions (in the Bible there are over 500 references to water – more than to worship or prayer!). Maori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa / New Zealand, introduce themselves by naming the river with which they identify. Freshwater ecosystems cover only 1% of the earth’s surface but are home to 12% of all animal species. Over the last century, human demand for fresh water has grown at double the rate of population growth. It’s predicted that two-thirds of the world’s population will experience water stress by 2025. It’s not surprising, then, that freshwater ecosystems are the most endangered on the planet. In the IUCN Red List, 34% of freshwater species are threatened – more than any other group. But attitudes to aquatic ecosystems are changing. Thirty years ago, town planners typically engineered urban streams as drains. These days, increasingly, urban streams are being restored as habitats and public assets. In New Zealand, land owners and ‘stream care’ groups are planting hundreds of kilometres of river banks with native plants. In the Bible, water is a powerful symbol for the life that God’s spirit brings. Water is also portrayed as an agent – God cares for all creatures by providing them with water (eg Psalm 104:10-16). Thus, God’s coming kingdom is a place of abundant clean water – the desert blooms (Isaiah 35) and a life-giving river flows through God’s city (Revelation 22).
A Rocha teams are studying and protecting a fascinating variety of wetlands: a Portuguese estuary, a French floodplain, a Ugandan urban swamp, Ghana’s only natural lake, seasonal pools in Lebanon and Canadian salmon rivers, to name just a few. In this issue you can read about some of these, as well as A Rocha’s new marine research programme in Kenya. Efforts to restore and protect aquatic ecosystems might seem small compared to the scale of the threats, but they are signs of the renewal that God will one day complete. They are significant not just for the habitat that each one restores, but also for the ways they engage people in understanding and caring for these precious and increasingly threatened ecosystems.
The healing power of a Ugandan swamp
A Rocha Uganda is studying and protecting Lubigi Wetland, important for many water birds, birds of prey and large mammals. The wetland is essential not just for wildlife, but also for the people who live in the slums around it, and with whom A Rocha works. It provides them with fish, water to irrigate their vegetables and plants for medicine, crafts and food. In June and July 2012, with the help of science internship students from Makerere University, Kampala, A Rocha Uganda conducted a survey through household interviews in the communities surrounding Lubigi Wetland. Twenty-five plant species were found to be of medicinal value to the local people, who are financially unable to access western clinics. These are mostly used for the treatment of flu, coughs, pregnancy complications, non-clinical illnesses and the promotion of cultural beliefs. The medicines are prepared in a variety of ways such as making juice, extracting powder, smoke baths, concoctions, steam baths, cold infusions, poultices and rubbing into the skin. Four people were found to directly earn a living through treating people with herbs from the wetland. Five swamp plants are used to make crafts and dyes, and seven plants as food. Despite the local dependence on the plants, and the recent reduction in the size of the wetland, only the traditional herbalists were found to cultivate medicinal species at their homes.
Questions for reflection
- Which Biblical references to water do you find most powerful?
- How far do you agree that recognition of nature and mankind’s interdependence is critical to the latter’s survival?
- Is there a danger in viewing nature through the lens of the ecosystem services it provides? Should we view nature as having intrinsic worth of its own?
- Are you familiar with A Rocha’s work, or that of an organisation which is similar? What can be done to encourage Christian communities to take practical action to protect the earth?
- The Lubigi Wetland project encourages people to take care of the natural environment most local to them. Can you think of examples of local environments close to you which need protecting? What can you do to look after them?
Some further reading
WWF’s Climate Change Work available at: http://www.wwf.org.uk/what-we-do/area-of-work/climate-change-and-energy
A Rocha, Planet Wise Blog: available at http://blog.arocha.org/en/
Green Christians homepage http://www.greenchristian.org.uk/