On this Christmas, I wish for a future in which water is treated not as a commodity or a possession, but as a gift to future generations.
“Water is the new oil” has become a platitude, one we accept without contention or due consideration. This is dangerous, for it neglects what water truly is: the font of human dignity, of beauty, of decency, of prosperity and of natural wealth.
The National Catholic Rural Life Conference calls water “a sacramental commons for all,” and on this Christmas Day I leave us with their words.
Our physical dependence upon water is reflected in the central place that water takes in the practices and beliefs of world religions. Water is recognized as a sacred gift, and is upheld as the common heritage of all creation. We say that water is a sacramental commons because water sustains all life.
Water also cleanses: it washes away our impurities, purifying objects for ritual use as well as making a person clean, physically and spiritually. No other substance on Earth carries so profound a spiritual meaning.
Many faiths use water in rituals of initiation: The pouring of fresh, living water, symbolizing the spirit of God, makes manifest a new spiritual life. Cleansing with water consecrates the body and is understood as a preparing of oneself for a closer communion with God.
The contamination of water or the act of withholding it from anyone is an affront to the sacredness of water. It is our collective responsibility to preserve fresh water, and to make fresh water available to all people.
We say again that water is a sacred gift, inspiring in people a response of gratitude. A spirituality of gratitude takes us beyond seeing water as only a physical or economic good, and even a social or cultural good: Water is a gift of the Creator and treated as a sacramental commons for its unique life-giving role in creation.
Faith communities give special significance to how the most vulnerable and voiceless will fare in a water-scarce world. The principles here presented can help people of good will reach solutions that will demonstrate justice and nurture peace throughout the world.
1. Water has intrinsic value in itself, independent of its utilitarian and commercial value.
2. Access to enough safe, clean and affordable water for personal and domestic use is a basic human right.
3. Water should be held in the public domain, as a common good for all people. Governance decisions should not be based on profit, but should be made according to the criteria of equity and human dignity, sustainability of all life, and meaningful community participation.
4. If a government decides to shift the public responsibility for providing quality water to private entities, it should ensure the protection of the public interest so that the rights of poor and low-income people are not denied, and that principles of sustainability are protected.
5. Decision making should be characterized by openness, transparency, and strong public regulatory oversight. All local, national and international public institutions have responsibility to ensure these conditions.
6. Water must not be used as a tool of oppression. Political boundaries should not hinder access to water.
7. Water resource management should be based on the principle that water is an integral part of the ecosystem and on an understanding of the hydrologic cycle and the integrity of hydrographic basins.
8. Water is a social and cultural good. It has also become an economic good. Policies relating to the economics of water should ensure efficiency and the most beneficial uses as determined by all stakeholders.
9. When a community water supply becomes unsafe to drink or is in some other way interrupted, water must be provided at or below cost by public authorities.
10. Water should not be traded as a commodity. The sovereign right of each country to regulate its water resources and sanitation services should be reaffirmed.
11. Each person has the right to water for a basic livelihood. Marginalized and vulnerable social sectors should be given priority in terms of access to water and appropriate water technologies for subsistence.
12. In all policy decisions, always ensure the needs of poor and vulnerable people while meeting the goal of environmental sustainability.
Given these principles, water management and its distribution must be guided by considerations for the common good of the people of the world and the natural systems of the planet itself.