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Tuesday, 02 May 2017 03:30

Laudato Si’ and Water

Written by Flavio Rocha
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Flavio Rocha – Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Brazil*

The word “water” is cited forty-seven times in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’. This demonstrates the great value and concern Pope Francis places on water as a sacred and essential part of life. 

Though water is essential to life, we take it for granted when we reach for a glass of water. Most humans will perish after three days without drinking water. It is so central to maintaining life on our planet that, at times throughout history, water has been used as a tool in military confrontations and has been the source of regional and local conflicts and transboundary disputes.

Pope Francis identifies key problems related to water:

  • the lack of access to clean drinking water [28];
  • the challenges for food production due to droughts and disparities in water availability and “water poverty” [28];
  • the continued prevalence of water-related diseases afflicting the poor [29];
  • the contamination of groundwater [29];
  • the trend toward privatization and commodification of a resource which is a “basic and universal human right” [30].

“Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use,” Pope Francis says. “Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people and species; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.” [31]

Thirst has no competitor. Yet, in a world where the majority of people live in cities, we are losing touch with nature and its cycle. As a result, our perception of the value of water and the care for water in our daily lives is losing connection with reality. 

At a restaurant for lunch in New York City on a hot summer day, the waiter asks for your drink order. The only thing you desire is a glass of cool water, which
the waiter promptly brings for the whole table. When the bill comes, there is no charge for the water. This is not a surprise, as in the US and some other countries, restaurants customarily provide free tap water. 

You finish your lunch and go a theater to see a play. You have a water bottle in your backpack, and you know that many places in the US have security guards who check bags for dangerous items, which typically include liquids. Surprisingly, the usher tells you that New York laws allow people to carry water bottles in public places. Had your water bottle been empty, you could have filled it with tap water, as the City of New York pays upstate farmers to preserve land around sources of water in order to provide chemical-free tap water for people in the city.

Outside the US, it is different. Chances are you will find that water is valued differently, either because water is not treated for human consumption or because it is more profitable for businesses to sell mineral water. One could spend five to ten dollars a day just on bottled water to stay hydrated. As more cities around the word authorize the privatization of water, access to clean drinking water is becoming more difficult and more expensive.

In their book, Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water, Canadians Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke were some of the first to examine the effects of globalization on the world’s water supply. They conclude that wars of the future will be fought over water, not oil. Corporate giants such as Vivendi, which supplies water-related services to 110 million people in more than 100 countries, and corrupt governments will vie for control of a dwindling safe water supply, prompting protests and revolutions from citizens fighting for their right to survive.

The privatization of water is not new. Communities all over the world—France, the US, Brazil, Honduras, Argentina, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Sudan, South Sudan, Egypt and many other countries—have been organizing to resist water privatization. A well-known struggle involving water happened in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2000, when dozens of people died while protesting against water privatization. That protest became known as the “Water War.” 

In France, cities are taking back the administration of water distribution after communities objected to the high prices charged by private companies. In the US, non-government organizations in Michigan, California, and Oregon have pursued legal battles against companies like Nestlé when they attempted to secure ownership to sources of water in their municipalities. 

How did multinational corporations take over a necessity for life on our planet? One answer can be found in World Bank documents. This financial institution has lobbied for changes in international law related to water ownership and the reclassification of water as a commodity to be commercialized.  

Water is sacred. In Laudato Si’Pope Francis names the disparities in access, quality, and use of water between the wealthier, industrialized countries and poorer countries as moral, ethical issues.

He calls us to protect the sacredness of water, the element used in the sacrament of Baptism to symbolize the grace of God which cleanses us and give us life. Pope Francis makes clear the need for unrestricted access to water to be a right for all people. Water should not be an instrument of suffering for anyone, especially marginalized members of society. “Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.” [30] 

Have you read Laudato Si’It’s available for free download at:


*In honor of World Water Day, March 22, Flavio Rocha examined the lessons about water that Pope Francis offers in Laudato Si’, the encyclical which is subtitled “On Care For Our Common Home.” His complete article, of which this is an abridgment, was published by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns (http://maryknollogc.org/article/laudato-si-and-water). 




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