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Statement of H. E. Archbishop Francis Chullikatt
Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations

"Water and sanitation"

New York, 24 May 2013


Mr. Co-Chair,

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.(1) 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 sanitation.

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."(2) 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.

Sustainable Development 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.

Mr. Co-Chair,

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 incentives.

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 good.(3)

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.(4) 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 mind."(5) 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 redress.

Mr. Co-Chair,

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."(6)

Thank you, Mr. Co-Chair.

1) A CONTRIBUTION OF THE HOLY SEE to the Sixth World Water Forum Marseille, 12-17 March 2012.

2) Pope Francis, General Audience, 8 May 2013.

3) A CONTRIBUTION OF THE HOLY SEE to the Sixth World Water Forum Marseille, 12-17 March 2012.

4) Id.

5) Id.

6) Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus message, 18 March 2012