Clean Water and Sanitation

Water is a fundamental and life-sustaining part of God’s creation. A vital gift from God, water is necessary for the existence of human life and its absence is a right-to-life issue. In order to protect human life, we must be concerned with the availability of safe, affordable, secure access to clean water and sanitation. If our neighbour lacks clean drinking water and sanitation, then they lack the means necessary for living and are exposed to disease and degradation. The lack of water is incommensurate with their innate dignity. Quoting Saint John Paul II, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states:

Satisfying the needs of all, especially of those who live in poverty, must guide the use of water and the services connected with it. Inadequate access to safe drinking water affects the well-being of a huge number of people and is often the cause of disease, suffering, conflicts, poverty and even death.”

Each person has a right to clean drinking water and sanitation. Fundamental to our development as humans, access to clean water is a foundation upon which further and holistic development, indeed flourishing, of individuals and communities can take place. Access to clean water and sanitation is a common good – that is, one of the conditions of social life allowing each person ‘the relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment’ (Gaudium et Spes #26). There is, however, a tension between water as a human right, a social good destined by God for all, and water as a commodity. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states:

By its very nature water cannot be treated as just another commodity among many, and it must be used rationally and in solidarity with others… The right to water,[1011] as all human rights, finds its basis in human dignity and not in any kind of merely quantitative assessment that considers water as a merely economic good. Without water, life is threatened. Therefore, the right to safe drinking water is a universal and inalienable right.” (485)

We have been entrusted with the care of creation (Gen 2: 16), specifically, with the care of water and with the care of those creatures who rely upon it for their existence.  As Christians we believe all creation has been made new in Christ (Colossians 1:19-20) and it is through our relationship with Christ we better come to understand our relationship with and need to care for creation.  As Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI states in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate (#51):

The Church has a responsibility towards creation… she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction”.

To learn more about clean water and sanitation, please click on the following links: