Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher: Before I make a few reflections in my own name, I have the honor to read the message of His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State to the participants of this international conference.
Your Eminences, Excellencies, members of the diplomatic core, distinguished professors, students, dear guests, I am delighted to address a few words of welcome, and to extend my cordial greetings to all of you. It is very encouraging to see that people from different countries, cultures, and religious backgrounds have made an effort to come together to discuss and reflect on the important issue of water as a value that can and should unite all of humanity without any prejudices. Pope Francis in his Encyclical letter Laudato Si has clearly stressed the importance of water within the context of the global changes we are facing. Such problems, related to the unprecedented exploitation of the planet, have a visible and immediate impact on the precious element of water. Today it is even more clear that different ecosystems are strongly influenced by human action, while the resiliency and capacity of the earth remain limited. In fact, it seems that we are reaching a dangerous age of possible ecological failure, with heavy consequences for the entire planet, and thus for us all. When we consider this precious resource, we all should be attentive to the issues of water availability, wasting, and pollution. Different international fora constantly raise awareness on the serious problem of the diminishing quality of the available safe drinking water and especially on the its accessibility to the poor. In the 21st Century, there are still many regions suffering from inadequate sanitation and insufficient water supplies and access, which has a significant impact on ecological sustainability and human health, particularly on infant mortality. Moreover, water is sometimes incorrectly perceived, not as a gift, the access to which should be considered a fundamental human right, but merely as a resource of economic trade, and even as a tool of social and political control, widening inequalities and tensions.
For this reason, every initiative that strives to raise awareness about this vital element of our planet, its value and meaning, deserves praise and encouragement. I am particularly happy that in your ongoing program of work you also intend to focus your attention on the youth, who need to be engaged with education and cultural initiatives. Indeed, Pope Francis pointed out that the problem of water is partly an education and cultural issue, but, as the Holy Father underlines, “It is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared by everyone. This basic awareness should enable the development of new convictions, attitudes, and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual, and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”
While I express my appreciation to you for having organized this event, I would like to wish to all of you a very successful and inspirational day of reflection. Signed Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State.
I won’t repeat the introductions and the list of personalities at the beginning. I’ll just go straight into the text for economy of time. In many religious traditions, water is an instrument of purification, opening the door for those who have faith to the creation of conditions for a new life. In the Christian dispensation, water is the instrument par excellence of the First Sacrament, baptism. It is water that Jesus promises to the Samaritan woman in that very evocative gospel passage which, in fact, we read last Sunday at Mass. Precisely, from a Samaritan who belongs to a people shunned by the Jews. For, thirsty, Jesus asked for water almost as an acknowledgement that by means of water divisions can be overcome and political and ethnic hatred can be transformed into new opportunities for solidarity and justice.
The episode of the woman at the well takes on a current and prophetic value when one considers the many more or less simmering conflicts that erupt with the violent appropriation of scarce water resources. This has often happened and happens still in relation to lakes or river basins with limited availability of water that are shared among a number of states or which are located on the lands of neighboring peoples. Transnational hydro-resources shared by multiple states offer opportunities either for competition and conflict or for cooperation and solidarity, especially when they constitute a key factor in the economic stability of each state. Among those working in this field, concepts such as hydro-solidarity and hydro-diplomacy are already rather well developed.
In the second half of the last century, some 200 treaties were successfully concluded concerning water, showing that cross-border cooperation on water issues is an excellent example of long term conflict prevention, given that countries benefiting from such treaties have really had some second recourse to armed conflict. Neighboring peoples are thirsty and ask for water as Jesus did from the Samaritan woman; they sometimes have to ask water from their traditional enemies, as again in the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan.
Only a response of charity and solidarity, worked out through political and technical agreements, can offer succor to a thirsty people, and at the same time, this easing of traditional energies can become an occasion of peace, can transform that gift of simple drinking water into living water.
Again water, so essential for the fertility of the soil, has played a crucial role in the creation of civilizations and in the development of their social and urban fabric. Water is a common good of humanity. It represents an essential element of life, and the management of so precious a resource must be such as to allow access to all; first and foremost to those who live in conditions of poverty. Access to water, in fact, is among the inalienable rights of every human being, since it is a prerequisite for the realization of many other human rights, such as the right to life, to food, to health.
Pope Francis often speaks of this matter, for example, in his Encyclical letter Laudato Si, but the international community has also taken serious account of it, especially in the resolution of the general assembly of the United Nations on the human right to water adopted from the year 2010 onwards; which call both state and nongovernmental actors, private sector, international organizations, civil society, to assume the responsibility vis a vis the human right to water. Water then is to be seen as a vital public, social, and cultural good, and not principally as an economic good. This is an important distinction at the center of numerous debates about the conflict between the right to water and the privatization of water resources, a practice that can hamper access to water for many people and in consequence can harm their realization of a fundamental right.
Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that as well as being an essential fundamental and universal right, water is a limiting factor in development. Even in the presence of other keys to development – work, land, minerals, other natural resources – the scarcity or absence of water not only hampers a decent and healthy domestic and community life, but also strongly impacts agriculture, livestock rearing, industry, and many other productive activities. On the other hand, the replacement of the earth’s fresh water is assured by the water cycle, which depends not only on natural elements but also on human activities, which when badly managed can create imbalances and distortions in the same water cycle, adversely undermining the very quality of the water produced by that cycle. One might think, for example, of the pollution of rivers and aquifers, or of haphazard deforestation.
Thus, new approaches to water are necessary. In the legislative, institutional, political, economical, technical, and ethical spheres and, consequently, in the educational and cultural spheres, given that the question of water requires a long term vision informed by that integral ecology so well outlined by Pope Francis in Laudato Si. This long-term approach, based on an integral ecology, will require that each one of us works attentively for an education and a formation of the young directed to promoting a new culture of care, a culture of awareness towards the environment, broadly defined, and, in our particular case, towards water. Referring back to the title of my brief remarks, it is perhaps in this very work of education and formation of the young that we find our moral mandate and our sacred legacy.
It is my sincere hope that this meeting can contribute to identifying such new approaches and can propose the means to apply them with the aim of giving a concrete response to the various targets contained in the sixth sustainable development goal, but, also, of reinforcing the human right to safe drinking water for everyone, with special attention to the most disadvantaged peoples and their need for water security, upon which also depends their food security. Thank you very much for you kind attention.
Dr. Gowing: There is the Facebook address, Facebook.com/valuesofwater. So thank you both very much indeed as the main host here. But we have another co-partner, another cohost as well, which is the Club of Rome. What I’d like to do is invite three speakers from the Club of Rome now to join us up on the platform. Professor Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, who is co-president of the Club of Rome, Silvia Zimmermann del Castillo, who is the co-director of Watershed, and, also, Joerg Geier, who is the associate director and chief coordinator of Watershed, this umbrella under which we are sitting today without any rain outside. The Club of Rome along with the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Club of Rome is a global think tank. All of you know it well, but let me just remind you that it deals with a variety of international issues, including the World Economic System of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation founded in 1968 at the Academia de Lonche here in Rome, hence the Club of Rome. It describes itself as a group of world citizens sharing a common concern for the future of humanity, and since it was formed, my goodness, how many concerns there have been and water is really just the latest, although it’s been building for so long, but it’s coming down the track at such a speed along with so many other unthinkables and unpredictables in this world. So Professor von Weizsäcker, the floor is yours for 10 minutes. Thank you very much. Welcome.