Vatican cardinal: ‘Access to clean water must be a priority’

20200707 Press Conference   Preparing the future building peace in the time of Covid 19  Daniel Ibez 4 Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, at a Vatican press conference July 7, 2020. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

It must be an international priority to ensure that everyone has access to clean, potable water. That is the firm belief of the Vatican.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told CNA that the Holy See has been working for years to realize this vision, even before the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation in 2010.

Speaking after World Water Day, an annual U.N. observance held on March 22, the Ghanaian cardinal underlined the Vatican’s long-term commitment on the issue of access to water, evaluated the Dicastery’s most recent initiatives, and outlined future developments.

In March 2020, the Dicastery published the document “Aqua fons vitae,” which provides “orientations on water, a symbol of the cry of the poor and the earth.”

The document epitomized years of work of the Holy See on the issue. The Vatican took part in August 2019 in World Water Week, organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

In the past, the Dicastery has participated in meetings of the World Water Forum, which gathers every three years, summoned by the World Council of Water.

Pope Francis mentioned the theme of access to safe and drinkable water in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ and the 2019 message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

According to Turkson, “access to drinkable water and hygienic services is a matter of human dignity. It is about life and health. It is a precondition to fulfill other rights.”

The cardinal noted that “the threat to the access to drinkable water deals with poverty, pollution, sometimes an environmental issue, but also with social issues like discrimination and corruption.”

For this reason, Turkson called for an “integral vision of the access to water, as well as a clear will of making this access to water a priority.”

Last year, the Dicastery launched the WASH project (access to drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) in healthcare facilities belonging to the Catholic Church.

A dicastery’s release issued March 21 stressed that “bishops’ conferences, dioceses, congregations, and several Caritas have responded to the Dicastery’s call. A detailed assessment is currently being conducted in approximately 150 Catholic healthcare facilities (from small dispensaries to hospitals) in 22 countries. Cost estimates are also being conducted to understand what has to be done and how much it would cost to sustainably improve WASH conditions and meet proper standards through infrastructure, equipment, maintenance, and staff training.”

Turkson noted that, despite the “wonderful dedication of missionaries,” there many areas with “WASH deficits,” which “jeopardize the health of people and the staff of the healthcare facility.”

He observed that “it is often easier to fundraise for a new equipment than fundraising for the maintenance of hydraulic pumps, filters, soap, and water closets.” And yet, “these are basic needs, not optional needs.”

The cardinal said that the Dicastery would seek “increase awareness on the water issue and support that the WASH issues will be part of the ordinary management of the healthcare facilities.”

At the moment, “the dicastery is looking into the assessments of the healthcare facilities” to understand “what is missing, what does not work, what to do,” he said.

Cardinal Turkson emphasized that the Church “is a pioneer in healthcare work and has a significant network of healthcare facilities and medical schools for doctors and nurses.”

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He said that the dicastery “is currently working to help synergies and collaboration among several organizations, university and donors” that were sometimes not connected at all.

Finally, the cardinal said he was concerned about “the growing trend to consider the healthcare system as a business.” He added that the Vatican COVID-19 Commission was seeking to look at the pandemic “from the perspective of integral ecology” and that the water issue is “essentially linked with health.”

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