Eminent leaders from across India joined hands this autumn to signify the launch of GIWA-India at a special press event hosted with the technical support of UNICEF-India. GIWA-India is the first country-level initiative of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, of which HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji is Co-Founder and Co-Chair.

During the launch event, leaders discussed the crucial importance of GIWA’s special focus on India, a nation in which over 600 million people don’t have access to toilets and millions further have no access to healthy water and hygiene.

Said Pujya Swamiji, “the suffering and deaths that result from poor WASH conditions are mostly preventable, making WASH a holy mission for which all leaders should join forces, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our environment, and for the sake of India’s future.”

Standing together for GIWA were: 

  • Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh,
  • Archbishop of Delhi, His Grace Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto,
  • Chief Jathedar of Sri Akal Takhat,
  • Sant Giani Gurbachan Singh, National President,
  • Global Imam Council Maulana Luqman Tarapuri-a-Deobandi Alim,
  • Representative of HH the Dalai Lama, Mr. Tempa Tsering,
  • Nobel Laureate, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Director General of TERI, Dr. RK Pachauri,
  • Jainacharya Acharya Dr. Lokesh Muni, Ahimsa Vishwa Bharati
  • Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary-General of Global GIWA and President of Divine Shakti Foundation
  • Sue Coates, Chief of WASH, UNICEF India
  • Caroline den Dulk, Chief of Advocacy and Communications, UNICEF India.

GIWA is the world’s first initiative to engage leaders of many faiths to create a world where everyone has access to improved sanitation, safe drinking water and proper hygiene. 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.

The faith leaders expressed deep anguish at the fact that nearly 600 million Indians still defecate in the open. This results in high mortality, morbidity and environmental degradation. The worst affected by poor sanitation, hygiene and open defecation are the children and women. India has the world’s largest number of diarrheal deaths among children under the age of five, and nearly 88 percent of the diarrheal deaths are mainly due to poor sanitation, unsafe drinking water and unhygienic practices.

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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). Time has come that we 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.”

Archbishop Dr. Anil Coutoji shared, “‘Let us not only raise awareness on WASH one day but take time every week in our congregations to spread this message, again and again. Let us join hands to transform not just one corner but all corners of our nation into sacred places of worship. This can happen if we can come together, like Pujya Swamiji has brought us together, as one family with one goal, to serve the Creation as well as the Creator.”

Maulana Luqman Tarapuriji of Gujarat 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.”

Sant Giani Gurubachan Singhji said, ‘Divine has given us heaven as our nation but we have polluted it and desecrated the land, due to our mistakes and our choices. Time has come that we not only join hands and hearts, pledge to spread this message in our communities but also start this revolution in our homes. Let us take our unity to the streets and villages of India and share this message of WASH so that our children are guaranteed a future in which they not only can survive but thrive.’

Dr. RK Pachauriji shared, “It is beautiful that GIWA has brought together such a diverse and revered group of interfaith leaders, it illustrates that there is indeed so much that binds us and so little that divides us. WASH is just a symbol of working together for our larger dharma, our human religion. The benefits of which have a direct impact on human dignity, ensuring that each human being can live in their fullest potential and that, in my opinion, is also the goal of spirituality and faith.”

Acharya Lokesh Muniji shared, “WASH is directly related to health. Health is related to prosperity and prosperity plays a key role in strengthening our communities unity and oneness. Therefore by improving WASH we impact our whole nation. Therefore, today I pledge to inspire and motivate the entire Jain community to join GIWA and walk to share and spread this message.”

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji said, “Nearly 595 million people lack toilets in India. Millions of girls and women fall prey to violence, threat of wild animals and basic indignity on a daily basis due to open defecation. In India we are emphasizing education for the girl child. This is a wonderful initiative, but if we don’t simultaneously emphasize provision of proper toilet facilities, these same girls will drop out of school when they reach puberty. A tragically large percentage of girls’ education ends when they start menstruating due simply to the lack of hygienic, private toilet facilities where they can keep themselves clean.”

Mr. Tempa Tsering said, “It’s important that we not only raise awareness but also encourage the creation of the appropriate facilities and infrastructure to improve WASH. Interfaith leaders can pledge not only to inspire their communities but encourage gram panchayats, MLAs, MPs, ministers and all governmental agencies to ensure facilities are provided for people to have improved WASH available to all.”

Adding the UNICEF perspective, its 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 influencer 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.”

Welcoming the launch of GIWA-India, Giani Gurbachan Singh, Chief Jathedar of Sikhism’s supreme spiritual body, the Akal Takht, (Golden Temple) further expressed confidence that GIWA will not only give a strong platform for religious leaders to launch collective action on WASH, it will inspire other stakeholders and civil society too to contribute to the WASH Revolution. Seva (service) is one of the basic tenets of Sikhism and, therefore, GIWA will provide a new dimension to Seva to the community, he said.

The faith leaders underscored the importance of water and the environment and proclaimed their commitment to these by offering water onto a globe in a sacred “Water Blessing Ceremony.” Together, they then took a pledge to use the immense power of their respective faiths for promoting community health and wellbeing through WASH.

[1] See www.washalliance.org

[2] WHO/UNICEF (2014) Progress on sanitation and drinking-water – 2014 update [3] WHO 2008 [4] GIWA- India is registered as a Section 25 Company under the Companies Act of India with headquarters at Rishikesh. Address: – Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, Parmarth Niketan, P.O. Swargashram, Rishikesh (Himalayas), Uttarakhand- 249304, India. [5] Census 2011