A man casts a fishing net into the polluted waters of the river Yamuna, New Delhi, India A man casts a fishing net into the polluted waters of the river Yamuna, New Delhi, India 

Cardinal Czerny: 'We are destroying the very water sources we need to live'

As Cardinal Michael Czerny attends the 9th World Water Forum in Senegal, he explains the role governments and policymakers should play in ensuring solutions are found, as well as our responsibility as citizens to hold them accountable when they do not.

By Francesca Merlo and Fr Benedict Mayaki, SJ

The 9th World Water Forum, taking place from 21 to 26 March in Dakar, Senegal, "could not be more timely," as it links water with peace and development, according to Cardinal Michael Czerny, interim Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Speaking with Vatican News' Fr Benedict Mayaki before their departure to attend the Forum - which meets annually to identify, promote and implement concrete responses and actions for water and sanitation in an integrated way - Cardinal Czerny notes that Ukraine is an example of linking water to peace and development.

Water and Ukraine

He says there are "already people in Ukraine who are suffering, and perhaps dying from lack of water because of the damage already done."

Solidarity can be shown by ceasing to neglect the fact that "the wars of the future are being prepared by our mishandling, abuse, and misuse of water."

The forum's timeliness is also marked in terms of development, continues Cardinal Czerny. "All our human efforts should be contributing to development," and it simply cannot occur without reliable and safe sources of water.

Unfortunately, he continues, "in our short-sightedness, we are destroying the very sources that we do need and will need in order to live and to develop."

Church aid

World Water Day is being celebrated on 22 March. Currently, over 2 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water.

In this regard, Cardinal Czerny says the assistance provided by the Church is not "centralised", but rather is provided in a "capillary" way.

“In an infinite number of local and regional realities, the Church and Church people, organisations, and believers - both those who believe a great deal and those who do so less religiously - are all working together, and are very busy in trying to address the basic needs of those who need access to water and sanitation.”

The role of governments

Reference is then made to the Document Aqua fons vitae, published by the Cardinal's Dicastery in 2020, which stresses the rights of everyone to clean water.

That same year, the United Nations passed a non-binding resolution regarding water, recognising “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.

In this regard, Cardinal Czerny notes that the responsibility to solve all problems does not fall on governments.

Rather, he adds, it is the government's responsibility to make sure problems get solved, and to involve people - "each in their own way and at their own level."

Listen to our interview with Cardinal Michael Czerny

"These declarations and resolutions are the menu of government resolution," says Cardinal Czerny, adding that they "are not options for governments" but rather they are their responsibilities, "and if they are not meeting them we, citizens, need to hold them accountable."

“I hope that the governments will stop wasting everyone’s time by making declarations, and will take measures to really assure the basic needs that are necessary for life, for development and indeed for peace.”

Where tensions rise

Tensions often rise after the activities of certain countries cause problems of water access for nations downstream.

Cardinal Czerny therefore repeats the recommendation put forward by Pope Francis in his encyclicals Fratelli tutti and Laudato Si'dialogue.

"The only way that we are going to reach and have durable solutions to persistent problems is through dialogue, not through war," reiterates Cardinal Czerny.

It is important that the self-serving solutions imposed at the cost of the weaker cease, he says, adding that "this has been going on far too long" and in this common home of ours, "which is not an infinite resource, we have to learn to dialogue so we can learn to share resources and share responsibilities."

Role of science

Cardinal Czerny then speaks of science's role as a solution provider, explaining that "when you have good science, you have good engineering, and when you have good engineering, you have a reasonable and also reasonably costed solutions."

Things can be done, and they must be done without corruption, in a timely way, and with fair access, says the Cardinal.

"We cannot allow our precious resources or technologies to be hijacked by private interests." Our common home has its limits too, and we must learn to dialogue, together, and with it, concludes the Cardinal. 

21 March 2022, 16:09