The Vatican council has declared water a human right, not a for-profit commodity. Photo by Mickey Conlon

Canada not on board with Vatican on water as a human right

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  • March 16, 2012

Clean and potable water is a human right, not a for-profit commodity dependent on market logic, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace told the sixth World Water Forum in Marseille, France.

Canada, on the other hand, stands in contrast to the Vatican position, according to Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow.

The author of Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water claims the Canadian government delegation to the World Water Forum has been a back-room instigator of efforts to remove explicit recognition of the right to water and sanitation from the forum's official ministerial declaration.

"Here we have an example of a country like Canada that is using the World Water Forum, a non-democratic forum run by multinational water corporations, to try and negate what has been achieved at the United Nations General Assembly," Barlow said in a release.

By contrast, the Vatican's statement that "there persists an excessively commercial conception of water which runs the risk of mistaking it for just another kind of merchandise, and making investments for the sake of profit alone, without taking into account water's worth" shows the Canadian view is not necessarily the consensus, Barlow told The Catholic Register.

"It's very important to see the Vatican take this position," said Barlow in an e-mail from Marseille. "There are deeply competing views of the future of water. One sees water as a commodity to be put on the open market for sale, like running shoes, and therefore the responsibility of consumers. The other sees water as a common heritage, a public trust and a human right."

For Barlow, the Vatican position on water is a victory.

"To have the Vatican, with its outreach to millions around the world, side with the poor, indigenous and rural communities on the side of water justice is good news indeed," she said.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace statement at the World Water Forum is an update of previous documents of the same title, "Water, an Essential Element for Life." 

The Sixth World Water Forum, which Barlow calls "the Davos of water," wraps up March 17.

Representing the Vatican, members of the justice and peace council attended the forum along with leaders from government, private enterprises and local communities in an effort to study and develop just and sustainable policies and practices concerning the world's water resources.

While the international community has recognized access to clean and potable water as a human right, about half of the world's population still does not have guaranteed access to potable water, and more than a billion people have no access to proper sanitation, the document said.

Canada still has to deal with the United Nations vote to designate water and sanitation as a human right, according to Barlow.

"Like it or not, Canada is legally obligated to write a right to water implementation plan," she said. "But the Canadian government is using the illegitimate space at the World Water Forum to try to negate the right to water."

The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to water decried the Ministerial Declaration out of Marseille.

"It comes as an unwelcome surprise that the draft ministerial declaration of the 6th World Water Forum: Time for Solutions still does not recognize the human right to water and sanitation that has been explicitly recognized at the UN," said Catarina de Albuquerque.

The Vatican delegation said effective solutions were urgently needed and underlined that individual communities and nations could not solve the problems alone. Solutions required international commitment, co-operation and enforcement, it said.

It asked developed countries to contribute substantially to investments in developing nations' water needs and infrastructure through traditional aid and donor programs as well as innovative sources of financing including monies collected from "an eventual tax on financial transactions."

The Vatican also criticized corrupt or poor resource management as well as the "insatiable consumption," waste and contamination of precious water sources.

It called for equitable and sustainable development that focused on the most vulnerable and poor, saying "inequality in access and consumption of water can never be acceptable."

While policies and enforceable laws would go a long way in managing water resources more equitably for more people, the Vatican emphasized that no real change or reform could come without individuals accepting that water is a human right while embracing a lifestyle of moderation and a true sense of altruism and solidarity.

(With files from Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service.)

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