Vatican News staff writer
Access to clean, sufficient, on-sight and affordable water presents a major challenge for billions of people around the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 785 million people lack even basic drinking-water service, while a quarter of the world’s population only has access to contaminated sources, the cause for widespread water-born diseases. Of great concern is access to safe water and adequate supply for health care facilities.
In response to this challenge the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in 2020 launched a project aimed at addressing the situation regarding water, sanitation and hygiene, called “WASH”, in Catholic health care facilities around the world. The project carried out a worldwide survey and then developed strategies and concrete responses for those greatest in need. The project continues today in partnership with Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis, and Global Water 2020, among others, to network knowledge, best practices, and funding on a vital issue for all.
A matter of vital importance
The Catholic Church runs almost half of all health care facilities around the world where they are practically non-existent, due to poverty or inability for regions to provide healthcare in remote areas. Access to clean, dependable, on-sight water is essential for providing these services. Without clean water, sinks, soaps, toilets and hygiene procedures, billions of patients, care staff and families are placed at risk because there is no foundation or infrastructure for decent, safe, quality care.
Outreach in Masanga
A concrete example of this reality can be shared by Daughter of Charity Sister Bibiane Bokamba who heads a Church-run health center and dispensary in Masanga, Tanzania, a remote town in the northwest bordering Kenya. She also runs a “DREAM Center” health facility next door. DREAM is a health program established by the Community of Sant’Egidio, in collaboration with the DREAM Foundation, to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS in Africa, but over the years the scope has widened to promote universal health in Africa with DREAM standing for “Disease Relief through Excellent and Advanced Means”.
The facilities run by Sister Bokamaba are the only ones to be found in the area with the nearest town a three-hour distance by car. The centers provide close to 400 medical visits per month, in addition to basic care and counselling for those seeking it. Close by there is also a primary school. The economy in the area and sparsely populated small villages is mainly agricultural, with survival a major challenge for most. Until just over a year ago, water needs were desperate, given that they did not have enough wells or ways to collect water. In addition, assuring safe drinking water was not possible. But then Sister Bokamba worked with the community to get involved in upgrading the water and sanitation infrastructure by partnering with several charitable NGOs working in the field, also in conjunction with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Saving lives with new water wells and tanks
Thanks to these efforts, more than fifty thousand people now have access to clean water, which supplies the health and Dream centers, essential for their services. Sister Bokamba says now, “We have clean water. We made a well. We bought the tank also to collect water from the rain, so we can keep it and use it” The rainwater collection helps them get through the dry summer months, something that was not possible before a new well was drilled with three tanks linked to it. While the situation has greatly improved, she is hoping to add more wells, since the needs for the population are great.
“We need to add more water. We can build a well like we did at the hospital. So I think we need to be helped again for the water.” At the same time, the water supply for the health and Dream centers has saved countless lives. “So our hospital is helping a lot of people”, Sister Bokamba says, and “everything for us is a really big help for the population”.
The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development released last year a document entitled: “Aqua fons vitae - Orientations on Water, symbol of the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth”. The text looks at the social teachings of the popes, local churches and underscores the importance of water for all as an essential resource that must be safeguarded. Sister Bokamba can relate to it wholeheartedly, based on her own lived experience and that of those she serves in Masanga, Tanzania.