of H. E. Archbishop Francis Chullikatt
Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
Third session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable
“Water and sanitation”
(New York, 24 May 2013)
Water and sanitation is a
subject which requires from us a renewed sense of solidarity, responsibility
and action in order to ensure that all people have access to these fundamental necessities
of life. The starting point for our discussion must lie in recognizing the fact
that water is unlike other commodities: it is, rather, an essential element for
human life and a good destined for everyone.
Such recognition is necessary if the international community is to protect and
promote, as a universal human right, the human right to safe drinking water and
My delegation has been
advocating for over a decade for this recognition, but collective efforts on
the part of governments and international organizations are slow and hesitant
in reaffirming that access to safe water and sanitation is a fundamental human
right and a common good.
The unfortunate reality is that today over 800 million
people lack access to water resource, and millions more are without a safe and
sustainable water supply. Water is the
key to life, however, and denying water is tantamount to denying our brothers
and sisters a vital source of life for survival. Pope Francis recently stated
that: “Water is essential to life; without water we die; it quenches, washes,
makes the earth fertile.”
Closely linked to safe drinking water, also, is the need to provide access to
improved sanitation. But here again, the
MDG on sanitation remains the goal farthest away from achievement with nearly 1/3
of the world’s population living without improved sanitation. These are not
merely numbers; these are 2.5 billion of our fellow brothers and sisters.
Goals present a new opportunity for the international community to work
together to reverse this bleak reality.
Today, we have the opportunity to put discussions on human rights back
into prospective. It is within our grasp today to create a world in which
fundamental needs like safe drinking water and sanitation are given their due priority
in the hierarchy of rights over the promotion of so–called “new” human
rights. The failure to do so risks
repeating the lack of progress made on the MDGs for access to sanitation and the
right to safe drinking water.
In order to achieve this goal, we must adopt a
rights-based approach to providing access to water and sanitation. However, without corresponding obligations, a
rights-based approach risks reduction to sentimental expressions of good-will. Renewed
efforts to meet our personal, political and social obligations in the
utilization of water and sanitation resources, therefore, must become more than
promises for action but rather celebrations of success.
Such obligations will require adopting policies and
programs which seek to answer first the question of “how” we can efficiently
provide the needs of communities, before delving into the question of “whether”
it is economically expedient to do so. In this way, we reassert that it is
serving the human person which must guide us, not the pursuit at any cost of economic
It furthermore requires recognition of environmental
concerns. Access to water is one which goes beyond national borders and
requires international cooperation in governance so as to promote a harmonious,
sustainable use of natural resources in view of achieving the global common
In particular, the
creation of competent authorities should be encouraged on the regional and
cross-border levels for the joint,
integrated, fair, rational and solidarity-based management of the common resources,”
such as water.
In these efforts, civil society and the private sector play a crucial role in
protecting and promoting the right to water.
Coupled with this reality is the need for each of us to
recognize individual responsibilities to consume such essential goods with due moderation
and justice. Water is not an unlimited resource. Its rational use in solidarity
demands collaboration of all people of good will. Moderation in consumption
requires the recognition that “water constitutes a ‘system’ worldwide, and even
if there was not a direct connection between consumption and availability in
two different places, other indirect connections exist that must be kept in
Superfluous use of water has both direct and indirect impacts on others who do
not live with an abundance of fresh water resources. Justice requires
recognizing personal, legal and financial responsibilities, in harmony with the
principle of subsidiarity, to provide mechanisms to identify those responsible
for undermining or damaging access to safe drinking water and mechanisms for
The Millennium Development Goals sought to halve the
proportion of people living without safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
However, the outcome of Rio +20 and the Sustainable Development Goals provide
us with an opportunity to build upon lessons learned from the MDG process and
to set our goals more resolutely and our efforts higher, so as to be no longer satisfied
with providing only half the world’s people access to essential goods for life,
but rather, ensuring that all
people have the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.
In conclusion, my delegation also wishes to underline the
fundamental link between the precious and limited resource of safe drinking
water and the question of food security. It is to be hoped that our initiatives
“will help to guarantee to everyone a fair, reliable and adequate water access,
thereby advancing every human being’s rights to life and nutrition, as well as
a responsible and supportive use of the Earth’s goods for the benefit of the
present and future generations.”
Thank you, Mr. Co-Chair.
A CONTRIBUTION OF THE HOLY SEE to the Sixth
World Water Forum Marseille, 12-17 March 2012.