Vatican: safe water is human right to be guaranteed to all

The document was prepared for the fourth World Water Forum. An essential item, which has caused and could lead to conflicts, cannot be treated as any other normal consumer good.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Guaranteeing to all, especially for the poorest of the poor, the "human right" to pure, healthy water, must become a fundamental requirement for states and international organizations. The need becomes all the more urgent because in today's world, water is becoming a "strategic problem" and an issue over which wars have broken out. Water, common good of mankind, is an essential element of life; the management of this precious resource must allow access to all, especially those who live in poverty. This was the thrust of a document prepared by the Holy See for the fourth World Water Forum under way in Mexico City until 22 March. The document updates that presented at the third forum (Kyoto, 16 - 23 March 2003), and was made public by the Vatican today.

"Water is much more than just a basic human need. It is an essential, irreplaceable element to ensuring the continuance of life," said the document. "Water is intrinsically linked to fundamental human rights such as the right to life, to food and to health. Access to safe water is a basic human right. In a Message to the Bishops of Brazil in 2004, Pope John Paul II wrote, 'as a gift from God, water is a vital element essential to survival, thus everyone has a right to it'."

However, continued the Vatican, "while a human right is generally protected by internationally guaranteed standards", there is no such "international, explicit agreed acceptance of this right". The "vital" importance of water makes it a "strategic factor for the establishment and maintenance of peace in the world".

The document said there have already been conflicts over the control of hydraulic resources and others may break out when water shortages become manifest in the lives of people and communities. For this reason, "water can in so many ways become an indispensable element for the security of peoples and nations. To foster peace and an appropriate level of security in the current world situation, governments and international organizations will inevitably have to increase efforts to ensure that every person has access to safe water."

In a world where water is a luxury, it is often paradoxically wasted. "This action of wasting water is morally unsustainable." "There is an urgent need to regain a 'culture of water', to educate society to a new attitude towards water." Traditionally water was protected, even celebrated. "Today it runs the risk of becoming a mere consumer product. In the face of waste, water cannot be treated as a mere product of consumption among others" since it has an "inestimable and irreplaceable" value.

Water is therefore a "question of justice and responsibility", said the Vatican document. Management of water shortage is perhaps the most import issue to resolve the problem of access to safe and healthy water. "The problems and challenges must be looked at by all: national governments, international agencies, the private sector and local communities. More attention must be given to coordination and cooperation between these actors at all levels". It must be remembered that "an essential component of good management is community participation and ownership".

There are however "signs of hope. The issue of access to safe water and sanitation has become one of the top priorities of the international system. Identification and increasing recognition of water as a component of our lives, health, livelihoods, social and economic well-being have taken place in response. The political will to tackle the water sector, which has been lacking for years, has begun to be evidenced."

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