Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

The Right to Water and the U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development

September 15, 2015

  By Scott Wright, CCAO Director

right-to-waterPope Francis will soon make his first visit to the United States. In addition to meeting with Congress and with President Obama, he will also address the United Nations General Assembly, which is set to adopt seventeen new “sustainable development goals in September.

These goals commit nations to end extreme poverty and hunger, as well as remind global leaders of the moral obligation to protect the Earth from further damage due to climate change. And they lift up the right to water as a fundamental right.

right-to-water2What are sustainable development goals, and why are they important? They are a proposed set of targets relating to future international development. They address a broad range of sustainable development issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests. Some address a specific need, like ending poverty or ending hunger. More than a billion people around the world still live on less than $1.25 a day – the World Bank measure on poverty – and more than 800 million people do not have enough food to eat.

Ensuring access to water is one of the goals. Water is the basis for all human life; however, the U.N. estimates that 1.8 billion people live without access to clean, safe drinking water. And climate change, melting glaciers and severe droughts are affecting people’s access to water, driving them to migrate and in some cases, like in Syria and South Sudan, generating cruel conflicts bordering on genocide.

In parts of the United States, water is scarce and is being rationed. Columbans work in communities in California and along the U.S.-Mexico border, where, every day, people are affected by severe droughts and limited supplies of water.

right-to-water3According to the Catholic Church, water is a basic human right rooted in human dignity and not in any kind of quantitative assessment that considers water merely as an economic good. Without water, life is threatened. Therefore, the right to safe drinking water is a universal and inalienable right. See the Missionary Society of St. Columban statement on water, click HERE.

Poverty and hunger, access to water and climate change: it’s all connected.

Last December, Catholic bishops from three continents who were present at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change (COP20) in Lima, Peru issued a statement emphasizing “the ethical and moral dimensions of climate change.” They called on delegates to adopt “a fair and legally binding global agreement,” and an even stricter goal not to exceed a 1.5 degree Celsius rise in temperature relative to pre-industrial levels. The bishops added:

“We work closely with the most vulnerable communities and the excluded and are closely attuned to how the problem of climate change is affecting them. Climate change, with its devastating impact on Nature itself, on food security, health and migration, has led to a great number of suffering people worldwide. The main responsibility for this situation lies with the dominant global economic system, which is a human creation. One must recognize the systemic failures of this order and the need for a new financial and economic order.”

We welcome Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, and lift up a prayer that his witness and his words of justice and mercy will give “concrete hope” to millions of poor and vulnerable communities throughout the world.

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