September 25th, 2013: Today a special alliance was launched at the UNICEF headquarters at the United Nations. Convened by Rabbi Soetendorp and Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, religious heads from around the world officially launched the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) - an alliance of leaders of faith working together to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to people of the world. They were joined by Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF and Ms. Liliane Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Government of the Netherlands (in the picture with Rabbi Soetendorp).

The aim of GIWA is to harness the great power and influence of the world’s interfaith leaders of faith in effecting significant and positive change in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene and helping to achieve these crucial Millennium Development Goals.

Watch the official 2-minute summary video newsflash about the launch event created by UNICEF:

The speakers at the launch were:

•    Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director
•    H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, Former President of Ghana and current Chair of Sanitation and Water for All
•    Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, President & Founder, Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values and GIWA co-founder
•    Swami Chidanand Saraswati, President of Parmarth Niketan and Founder of Ganga Action Parivar and GIWA co-founder
•    Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, Chief Imam of India & President, All India Imam Organization
•    Sister Karen Schneider, Religious Sister of Mercy and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University
•    Xihutezcatl Martinez, 12-year-old award-winning environmental champion and “Earth Guardians” founder
•    Alexandra V. Destin Pierre, World Youth Parliament for Water, Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean
•    Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Ph.D, President of Divine Shakti Foundation and member of Ganga Action Parivar
•    Moderator: Alfred Ironside, Ford Foundation, Director of Communications

The launch included a sacred water ceremony in which the leaders offered water, gathered from 20 rivers across the world, to a beautiful crystal globe, representing the world. The ceremony was symbolic of the union of the leaders of many of the world’s religions in their commitment to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to the world. The water used in the ceremony was a gift from the WaterSongline Mothers of Water Council which is an international group of 16 women from diverse cultural backgrounds.

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 Ganga has a sacred significance for the world's 900 million Hindus.
  • EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East, advancing several award-winning campaigns to rehabilitate the Jordan river, invites Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith communities around the world to work together to rehabilitate the Jordan river and its ecosystem. Education materials and resources are available for lay leaders and clergys. The Jordan is sacred for over 3.5 billion Christians, Muslims and Jews. Environmental peacemaking in the Middle East can be achieved through the holy Jordan river.
  • Imam Ilyasi, Chief Imam of India and President of the All India Imam Organization announced the development of a WASH training involving over 550,000 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.
  • 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.

"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."

Said Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp: "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. Living water will be in reach of the whole community of life and thus hope will propel us to action. When I was a baby, people saved me and took care of me. Now, I have dedicated my life to making sure that every child is cared for, particularly that they have clean, safe water to drink.”

Said Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji:  “The borders and boundaries that we think separate us only illusory. We are not separate. We are one. So when our brothers and sisters are suffering due to lack of water, sanitation and hygiene, it is our responsibility to help them. Water is life and everyone has the right to life.  We have already lost too many precious lives due to lack of access to clean water and sanitation. It is time for us all to come forward together.”

Said Imam Ilyasiji: “The All India Imams Organization will spread the message to all of its 550,000 imams across India, the largest Imams Organization in the world, and they will then spread to their followers about the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene. We will train the Imams of India to spread this important message. We need to work also with the women because the women spread the message to the whole family so they are a very important part of our program.”

The leaders of The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) agree that it is no longer enough for religious leaders to exhort their followers not to bomb, shoot or stab each other. Rather, now, the definition of peace must be expanded to include not only freedom from deaths by bombs, guns and knives but also freedom from deaths by preventable water and sanitation-related illnesses. Permitting our brothers and sisters to die from preventable diarrhea or other illnesses due to unsanitary conditions is also violence and must not be condoned by our religions.

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.

Each day 1600 children die from diarrhea. One of the best strategies to reduce child deaths is improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Yet today only 64 per cent of the global population has improved sanitation, and more than 768 million people still lack access to improved drinking water sources.

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. The gathering generated the Wake Up Call on Water that states: "Wake up, religious leaders! Inspire the change of mindset needed for a water secure world of 9 billion!" The creation of GIWA can be seen as a reaction to this call.

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 United Religions Initiative, the Temple of Understanding, the Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, the Ecumenical One World Initiative (Germany), and the United Church of Christ (USA).

The event was sponsored by the USA and the Netherlands and hosted by UNICEF.

UNICEF has created a series of video interviews with core speakers of the event, please find those videos below:

Listen to 13-years-old Xihutezcatl Martinez, founder of the Earth Guardians speak at the launch event:

Watch Xihutezcatl and his 10-years-old brother Itzcuauhtli perform their song "Be the change" live on stage at the UNICEF House:

For more information about how to join this new alliance, please visit as well as and contact Michael Slaby, GIWA Manager at the Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values: mslaby [at]

The Soetendorp Institute


Jacob Soetendorp Institute for Human Values
Van Wijngaerdenstraat 21
2596 TW The Hague
The Netherlands