Imagine having to walk an hour or more to a river, the only water source around, filling a couple of large jugs and then trudging back home over rocky ground or on a well-worn path through dense underbrush so your family can have something to drink and cook with for the day. Then imagine doing it again tomorrow, the day after, the day after that and every day.
That’s the reality for millions of people around the world. The United Nations said in February that 787 million people — 11 percent of the world’s population — have no access to safe, clean water and are at risk of contracting a water-borne illness or disease on any given day.
Today, the U.N.’s World Water Day calls attention to the importance of managing and sustaining fresh water for everyone. While the most vulnerable may be those who struggle to find safe water sources daily, they are not the only people at risk. Water supplies anywhere can face assaults from pollution and lack of sustainability to shortages caused by climate change.
The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace recognizes the importance of water as well. In a statement, “Water an Essential Element of Life,” timed for the Sixth World Water Forum March 12-17 in Marseille, France, the council said access to water is a human right and must not be made into a for-profit commodity dependent on market forces.
“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” as a public good, the council said.
“There is a risk of not seeing one’s brothers and sisters as human beings possessing the right to a dignified existence, but rather seeing them as simply customers,” which leads to making water and sanitation available only to those who can pay, the council added.
Numerous development agencies and nonprofit groups also recognize that water is a human right and have sponsored water projects in some of the most isolated communities around the world.
In places such as South Sudan, water is an especially critical need.
Aleu Akot, one of the thousands of lost boys of Sudan who fled their homeland in the 1990s during the height of the country’s civil war and landed in the United States, has helped bring water to his village of Gukakot in Warab state.
Through Isaac’s Wells, a small organization based in Cleveland, the community now has three newly drilled wells. Akot said the project allows people who fled the region during the civil war to return to their homeland and live in peace.
“The people all around, they are very happy,” he told Catholic News Service from the home of Jackie Tuckerman, co-director of Isaac’s Wells. “One well will feed 2,000, 3,000 people in that area. Before they traveled to get water, and the water wasn’t clean. They still travel very far, but they will travel and get clean water there.”
That’s a far cry from what most of us experience. All we need to do is turn on the nearest tap.