“Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights” (LS, 30)

praised be 02-09 II

Water is not a person, however Pope Francis defines access to it as a “basic and universal human right”.  And the UN has reached this remarkable definition in 2010. Every living being needs water, daily. Without water, life cannot exist.  Even in the biblical account of creation we are told that “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters”, emphasizing how fundamental and vital this element is in creation.

The absence of water, or its contamination, endangers the lives of millions of people, condemning them to poverty, sickness, food shortages…and even death.  They are thereby denied access to this most basic of human rights, robbing them of their dignity, their future and their lives.  From water, we are able to understand that we are closely related and interdependent on the planet and all its elements.

The compelling assumption that “water is a human right” should lead us in Chile to care for it as something sacred and to fight so that it is within the reach of everyone, especially the most excluded and those impoverished by a neoliberal system that, in the words of the Pope, “can’t take anymore”, given that the prevailing economic-political-cultural system, without ethical or moral foundations, and centred around money and the marketplace as absolute “values”, marginalize even further large sectors of the population from the goods that God has created for all of us.  It is a serious crime against humanity and one that demands further questioning if we consider that in Chile some people who fancy themselves owners of the State, embodied in the Political Constitution of the State in the 80’s (and in the laws that resulted from it) water as a private good and an object of the marketplace.  Thus the State itself refuses to promote the common good but rather hands this job over to private companies.  As a result the major Multinational water companies have now taken ownership of much of Chile’s water, making it private property (in its ownership, management and distribution) and worse still, making it an object of the marketplace.

They even want us to believe that bottled water (one of the most profitable and lucrative business ventures of multinational companies such as Coca Cola, Nestle..) is healthier than the drinking water that comes from the taps in our own homes.  They would have us believe that it is “normal” for many towns to be supplied by water cistern trucks from theft of water from private companies (forestry, mining…).  They even want us to believe that it “makes sense” that multinationals profit from water because they administer the goods better than the State, thereby creating a problem of sovereignty.

The privatization and commercialization of water, supported and reinforced even by “democratic” (?) governments should cause us to be outraged and demand that indeed the sweet, fresh, vital water remains public and within the reach of the minimum basic needs, so that ALL of us can have a decent, healthy, equitable and happy life.

Water is a human right, a common good, and there will be no justice or peace until we get this fact stamped indelibly on our consciences and within our laws.

Collaboration: Bishop Luis Infanti De la Mora, osm. Obispo Vicario Apostólico de Aysén

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