By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Pope Francis has already made it clear that the availability and care of the world’s water sources must be a global priority. In his encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home), the word “water” appears 47 times—22 occurrences within articles 27-30 which treat the subject of water specifically.
In this encyclical, Pope Francis expresses his concerns: the waste of water, a sustainable supply of fresh drinking water, the quality of the water available to poorer populations, water-related diseases, the threat of the pollution of underground water supplies, the privatizing and commoditization of water, and the future consequences that the lack of water will have on food supply and international relations.
Access to water is a human right
Pope Francis proposes that the “problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue”. Against the prevalent and growing abuse of water, Pope Francis has strong words.
“Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.” (Laudato Si’, 30).
Water: long-time concern of the Holy See
Laudato Si’, however, states quite clearly what previous Popes, and the Holy See, have been saying for years. For example, in 2003, on the occasion of the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan, the Holy See presented a document entitled Water: An Essential Element for Life. Here, the Holy See states that the protection of water is a major factor in the development and sustainability of society. The Holy renewed its concerns in the Fourth and Fifth Water Forums in Mexico City (2006), and Istanbul (2009). The Holy See’s latest contribution in 2012 for the Sixth Water Forum held in Marseille contains many of the same concerns presented by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’.
We need to unite our voices
In February 2017, Pope Francis addressed those participating in a Seminar organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican on the theme "The Human Right to Water." Here he reiterated the centrality of water in the life of society.
“Water needs to be given the central place it deserves in the framework of public policy. Our right to water is also a duty to water. Our right to water gives rise to an inseparable duty. We are obliged to proclaim this essential human right and to defend it – as we have done – but we also need to work concretely to bring about political and juridical commitments in this regard.”
Given the gravity of the situation, education should be given high priority, Pope Francis underlined. Should the problems regarding water not be resolved, Pope Francis wonders that “in the midst of this ‘piecemeal third world war’ that we are experiencing, if we are not on the path towards a great world war over water.”
Pope Francis envisions that the treasure that water is will be safeguarded only if it becomes a single cause:
“We need to unite our voices in a single cause; then it will no longer be a case of hearing individual or isolated voices, but rather the plea of our brothers and sisters echoed in our own, and the cry of the earth for respect and responsible sharing in a treasure belonging to all. In this culture of encounter, it is essential that each state act as a guarantor of universal access to safe and clean water.”