Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 7, 2003
Water a right to life issue
Lack of clean water an issue for life -- Vatican
By Catholic News Service
Access to water for drinking, farming and sanitation is a basic human right that should be guaranteed by international law and assisted by international development programs, the Vatican said.
A lack of safe drinking water and sanitation systems often causes disease, unnecessary suffering, conflicts, poverty and even death, said a Vatican document presented at the March 16-23 World Water Forum in Kyoto.
"Water is a good that must serve for the development of the whole person and of every person," said Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which prepared the document.
The document, Water, An Essential Element for Life, discussed the religious and social significance of water, as well as its connections to poverty, sickness and environmental destruction.
The Vatican document said more than one billion of the world's people do not have access to adequate supplies of drinking water and that twice as many lack adequate sanitation.
"Respect for life and the dignity of the human person must be the ultimate guiding norm for all development policy, including environmental policy," the Vatican document said.
While an increasing world population has meant increasing demand for water, the document said, since 1940 increased water usage has outpaced the rate of population growth.
"The principal cause in increased demand is not in itself the mere growth of population but the disproportionate and unsustainable use of water for production and consumption by populations in developed countries."
The lack of clean water, especially for the poorest people in the world's poorest countries, "is rapidly becoming a crucial issue for life and, in the broad sense of the concept, a right-to-life issue," the Vatican said.
Many people have argued that, like the right to air to breathe, the right to water is so basic that it does not need to be listed among human rights in international documents, the Vatican said.
But, the document said, it might be time to state the right explicitly because of the seriousness of the problem and its threat to human life and dignity.
While the Vatican encouraged new laws, international development and foreign investment projects aimed at increasing access to safe water supplies, it also said water policy-makers should try to learn from the many indigenous communities that have age-old, environmentally sound methods of water procurement and conservation.
"Only when humankind respects the integrity of creation, in conformity to God's providential plan, will we reach a true appreciation of the significance of water in creation and for humankind," the document said.