Today on the important occasion of World Environment Day, a historic summit was organised by the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), the world’s first alliance of interfaith leaders working for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, and Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh. It was the seventh online webinar GIWA & Parmarth Niketan have organized in a series on the interfaith response to Covid-19.
The event was held in an esteemed partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNICEF, Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), United Religions Initiative, Parliament of World Religions, Shift Network, Uplift, Interfaith Rainforest Initiative. It was inspired by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President of Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh and Co-Founder/Chair of GIWA, and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Secretary-General of GIWA, who also introduced, led and moderated the panel.
In celebration of the United Nations Environment Day theme of this year, ‘Biodiversity’, this inspiring webinar was entitled ‘Moving from United Nations to a United Creation: Bridging Science & Faith is the Solution’. In this spirit, the webinar illustrated multilateral commitment and consensus of the worlds Interfaith Religious Leaders, intergovernmental organisations and scientists to call for humanity to protect Mother Earth’s biodiversity and natural ecological systems. The eminent panelists and luminaries joined their voices, their hands and their hearts in solidarity giving direction and shedding light on as the world recovers from the Coronavirus, we can keep Mother Earth healthy, while reinvigorating depressed economies and staying healthy ourselves.
Respected Panelists & Speakers included:
- Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji – President, Parmarth Niketan; Founder/Chair, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, Rishikesh, India
- Rabbi David Rosen – International Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee, Israel
- Maulana Mahmood Madaniji – Secretary General, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, India
- Renata Lok-Dessallien – Resident Coordinator in India, United Nations
- Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque – Representative in India, UNICEF
- Sue Coates – Executive Director, Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council, Geneva, Switzerland
- Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji – Secretary-General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, India
- Rev. Victor Kazanjian – Executive Director, United Religions Initiative, San Francisco, USA
- Dr. Azza Karam – Secretary General, Religions for Peace International, New York, USA
- Audrey Kitagawa – Chairman, Parliament of the World’s Religions, New York, USA
- Erik Solheim – Former Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme; Patron, World Sustainable Development Forum, New York, USA
- Dr. Bruce Lipton – Stem Cell Biologist, Bestselling Author, San Francisco, USA
- Dr. Charles McNeill – Senior Advisor, Forests & Climate, UN Environment Programme, New York, USA
- Rev. Fletcher Harper – Executive Director, GreenFaith, New York, USA
- Dr. Rajwant Singh – President/Founder, EcoSikh; Co-Founder, National Sikh Campaign, Washington DC USA
- Dr. Sunita Narain – Director General, CSE; Treasurer, Society for Environmental Communications, New Delhi, India
- Dr. Satish Kumar – Editor, Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, United Kingdom
- With Sacred Music by internationally loved musicians Deva Premal & Miten
The eminent faith leaders emphasized beliefs and actions that individuals could make.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji Secretary General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance; President, Divine Shakti Foundation, introduced the Summit and emphasized, “The United Nations was founded to bring peace and security, but peace must be more than an end to violent conflict. Peace must include protection and preservation of the planet and the natural environment. We cannot have security without sustainability. We have focused far too long on accruing weapons – bombs, missiles and guns to provide an illusory sense of security. Today, Covid19 has humbled us. We have missiles but no masks, guns but no gloves. This year as we focus on biodiversity, we recognize the sacred and essential thread that each of us, each individual and each species plays in the tapestry of life.
Renata Lok-Dessallien, Resident Coordinator in India, United Nations, began the first panel, as she set the scene of UN World Environment Day: “When we talk about bridging science and faith, especially in the context of the environment, we find these bridges already exist in the most ancient of our moral codes. All sacred traditions worship nature, seek balance between human beings and ecosystems and warn against destruction of the earth’s wealth. And we must use this wisdom to strengthen our global effort towards sustainable development.”
In his powerful and inspiring address, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President, Parmarth Niketan and Founder/Chair, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, shared, “I strongly believe that Corona has come as an Ambassador for our Environment. Therefore, let us reflect on the lessons we have learned from Covid-19. Nature has shown us that when we go inside she is able to heal and recover. It means the way we were living was the problem! Let us be the solution and change our lifestyles as well as reflect on our values. Corona has taught us that life is not to have more, or accumulate, or consume more; it’s really about being more and living more fully in harmony with ourselves and our planet. Every action to reduce our carbon and water footprint counts. Let us pledge to join hands and heart from this very moment to make not just today but everyday and every moment dedicated and devoted to environmental preservation and protection.”
Erik Solheim, Former Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme and Patron, World Sustainable Development Forum, shared, “How dare humans destroy Mother Earth, God’s wonderful creature? Let faith inspire us to take bold environmental action.”
Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee gave his blessings and shared, “If we truly see our environment as the Divine Creation, we will treat it with the utmost respect and do everything possible to guarantee its health and flourishing.”
After an interlude of interfaith prayer and inspiring, touching words from Audrey Kitagawa, Chairman, Parliament of the World’s Religions, and blessings from Dr. Rajwant Singh, President/Founder, EcoSikh and Co-Founder, National Sikh Campaign, USA,
Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative in India, UNICEF, opened the second panel and shared: “It is essential to recognize the relationship between climate change, migration, and children’s rights. Forced migration due to climate change…[will] displace a large proportion of children and families in India. COVID-19 presents us an opportunity to steer towards a path that tackles climate change while laying a better foundation for a safer, healthier, more inclusive and resilient tomorrow.”
Dr Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace added, “In order to protect our faith we must protect everything living around us. The very Earth we walk on is alive –very much alive! Therefore, we must walk and tread carefully on this Earth. The Covid19 pandemic shows us, more than ever before, the threads that connect us all. With increased cooperation and partnership we must all do our part to selflessly plant the seeds for a new tomorrow in which protection of the environment is of utmost importance.”
Dr. Sunita Narain shared her expertise as Director General, CSE and Treasurer, Society for Environmental Communications, urging the panel and the online audience, “We will need new futures, new directions for growth. But this can’t happen if our natural resources are threatened and our governance systems and practices are failing. ‘Green’ growth requires protection and sustainable use of our natural resources. ‘Green’ growth cannot happen if our health is compromised.”
Maulana Mahmood Madaniji, Secretary General, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind shared that “In our illusion of gaining supremacy of the Earth we had forgotten what is most important. Today let us stop, slow down & take care of the external as well as the internal pollution within our minds & mindsets. Let this time be one where we clean out our minds and change our lifestyles so that our New Tomorrow is sustainable not just a few but for all.”
Audrey Kitagawa, Chair of Parliament of World Religions shared “We must create a global movement that will transform our relationship with the environment from one of predation and destruction to preservation, restoration, and renewal. Our survival depends upon being in the right relationship with the earth and all of the sentient beings that side upon it. This relationship must be grounded in a deep respect for the sacredness of life.”
Rev Victor Kazanjian, Executive Director of URI shared, “The Earth teaches us that no one is the center- no one species is higher or lower than the other. We are interconnected. We are all one! This is what we must remember and apply to make every day one that is dedicated and committed to the inherent biodiversity and bounty of Mother Nature.”
Sue Coates, Executive Director, Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council shared her wealth of knowledge and expertise, as she explained: “Our actions – the water we drink, the waste we create all impacts nature. Our life is dependent on how we all manage biodiversity yet for the most vulnerable communities lack of information and choice limits their contribution to the transformational change needed. Working with faith leaders and inter-faith platforms, we have an opportunity to improve the communication pathway and acceptance of new ideas that pave the way for local solutions.”
Dr. Satish Kumar, Editor, Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, exclaimed, “It is as if we are at war with nature, so we must make peace with nature; peace with our precious planet earth, peace with the environment. When we make peace with nature we realise we are nature”
The high-level Summit also included inspiring words from Dr. Charles McNeill, Senior Advisor, Forests & Climate, UN Environment Programme, Dr. Azza Karam, Secretary General, Religions for Peace International, Dr. Bruce Lipton, Stem Cell Biologist, Bestselling Author, and Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director, GreenFaith.
Pujya Swamiji gave final blessings for the momentous panel with these words: “The Nature of our Future depends on the Future of our Nature. The mantra for a post covid 19 world should be: Nature, Culture and Future – protect our Nature, stay connected to our Culture, our human values in order to protect our future. Let the lessons from this Corona not be wasted. Let us be the change we want to see in the world. Let us pledge to join hands and heart from this very moment to make not just today but everyday and every moment dedicated and devoted to environmental preservation and protection.”
World renowned artists Deva Premal & Miten closed the special event with their sacred music and divine, harmonious voices.
All the participants and viewers were uplifted by this informative, powerful and productive discussion. The Global Interfaith WASH Alliance will continue to hold these unique and important panels as we continue to stand together as One against the Coronavirus, and work together to create a new future of unity, love, health and peace. The eminent panelists and luminaries joined their voices, their hands and their hearts in solidarity, hope and with great faith as the world heals from the Coronavirus we all of humanity be more aligned and connected with Mother Nature and our Environment.