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A dozen religious leaders from India traveled to Utah this weekend with a single message: Water is life, water is sacred.
The group, part of the interfaith effort known as WASH, which promotes water, sanitation and health, presented its ideas Saturday at a session of the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions at the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City.
It's an urgent message, said Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary General, Global Interfaith WASH Alliance. "More people have died from water issues [like scarcity or bad sanitation] than from all the violence – murder, domestic abuse, and suicide – across the world. "
It is especially acute in India, she said, pointing to statistics that say some "114 million people and their farms are expected to face extreme water shortages within coming years."
Between 1,200 and 1,800 children under 5 die every day, she said, for lack of clean and healthy water.
Leaders of all faiths worldwide must come together to tackle this problem, said Swami Chidanand Saraswati, co-chairman of Global Interfaith WASH Alliance. "It's not complicated but it requires concerted efforts."
According to some surveys, about 83 percent of the world's population believes in God or some form of a higher power, he said. Religious leaders could harness that belief into social action.
WASH is working with the United Nations, some governments, and nongovernmental agencies to provide some help, Chidanand Saraswati said, but it is religious leaders who can motivate believers to "change behaviors."
Among India's rural population, he said, open defecation contributes to the problem of sanitation.
"We are not talking about how to build more temples, but how to build more toilets," the Hindu swami said. "Let sanitation become our meditation."
If they are successful in uniting faith leaders on this social action, he said, "that will be the real revolution."