The Virtual Forums are a journey from the Seminar on the Right to Water that we organized in February 2017 with the presence of His Holiness at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of the Vatican towards the second Seminar that will take place at the Vatican in February 2021. With a multidisciplinary, we will approach solutions to global, regional and local problems that find their connecting axis in water by assessing and analyzing solutions and proposals for possible future scenarios.
Pope Francis has expressed his support for these activities.
The proposal also deepens our work on the right to water with REPAM (Pan Amazon Ecclesial Network) and the actions before and after the “Synod of the Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for Integral Ecology”. Framed in the fifth anniversary of the Encyclical Laudato Si´ and in the challenges the humanity is going through after the pandemic, we intend to work on proposals facing the scenarios of the future. The encounters will contribute with the Special Commission on COVID 19 created in the Vatican.
The Forums are co-organized with REPAM, whose President, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, was General Rapporteur of the Synod and will accompany us along the encounters.
The Virtual Forums address different dimensions related to the solution of problems that involve water as its connecting axis. We aim to achieve concrete multidisciplinary approaches, the identification of contextual elements and key actors and the assessment and proposal of solutions for possible future events.
In each meeting, we will foster dialogue between academic experts, technicians, religious leaders, public policy makers, referents from non-governmental organizations, labor unions, and multilateral organizations, among others. We will focus on emphasizing collaboration and practice between disciplines and institutions in the search for new knowledge and concrete solutions that contribute to the common good and hope for change in a world crossed by inequalities, pandemic, climate risk, economic and social crises. We challenge ourselves to think of a better world, this is what the journey is about.
Access to quality water and safe sanitation continues to be a goal pending to achieve. The COVID 19 pandemic, which affects all countries, has further highlighted inequalities in access to this vital element. Water is life and, as such, a Fundamental Right. Water cuts through all economic activities and is essential for development. It is also essential for fighting the deterioration of health, poverty, inequality and the lack of protection of the most vulnerable segments of the world population.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contained in the 2030 Agenda, Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si´, the Paris Agreement (COP 21), together with the Final Declaration of the Amazon Synod and the exhortation “Dear Amazonia” are an epistemological and practical platform that coincide in the deep observation of the problems that humanity faces and the possible solutions to safeguard life on the planet. As the Encyclical LS indicates, “In reality, access to safe and potable water is a basic, fundamental and universal human right, because it determines the survival of people, and therefore it is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. This world has a serious social debt with the poor who do not have access to clean water, because that is denying them the right to life based on their inalienable dignity. (LS 30).
The greatest impact of climate change manifests in the tropics where the most vulnerable populations from developing countries live. These countries also have fewer resources to respond to environmental or health crises; they suffer economic crises and models of environmental depredation. Without active government policies, the geographical and existential peripheries are exposed to a permanent state of high vulnerability and risk. The developed world is responsible for most of the anthropogenic gas emissions that have caused climate change. However, its consequences extend globally.
Pope Francis, in his homily on Mercy Sunday on March 27th, 2020 expressed: “… this pandemic reminds us that there are no differences or borders between those who suffer: we are all fragile, equal and valuable”. He urged to go further of our particular interests: “let us not think only of our interests, our vested interests. Let us welcome this time of trial as an opportunity to prepare for our collective future. Because without an all-embracing vision, there will be no future for anyone.”
According to data from the United Nations in its Report on Water and Climate Change 2020, over 2 billion people lack drinking water; about 4 billion people live under severe water shortage conditions for at least one month a year; almost 1.6 billion people suffer from water shortages due to the lack of investment in infrastructure or capacity to meet water demand in areas where the population cannot afford to use an adequate source of water; 80% of wastewater is discharged into the environment without treatment and over 90% of disasters are related to water. Likewise, as a result of the variability in access to water due to climate change, significant changes are expected by 2050 in food production.
Access to water but also the care of water resources and the protection of ecosystems have significant value in economic, cultural, aesthetic, recreational and educational terms. As Pope Francis expressed when addressing the participants of the Seminar on the Human Right to Water, that the IDGCE organized in February 2017 at the Vatican; the right to water “… also calls for practical solutions capable of overcoming the selfish concerns that prevent everyone from exercising this fundamental right. Water must have the central place it deserves in the framework of public policy. Our right to water is also a duty regarding water. ”
In that same Seminar, the Final Declaration expressed that “everything in the universe is connected” and that the care of the common good requires solutions based on cooperation, solidarity and a culture of dialogue. On this basis, we need to build new paradigms in which humanity does not claim unlimited dominance and is disrespectful about nature, but rather it exercises a collective responsibility for the care of it.
Those most affected by water scarcity and lack of basic sanitation should participate in the developments towards universal access. This implies work and education in the construction of a pedagogy of care.
Everybody is called to actively participate in the care of our common home, each with her own experiences, initiatives and capacities. This same call for an open dialogue that recognizes and includes, in the search for solutions, the multiplicity of interlocutors, including young people, as “prophets of hope”, committed to dialogue, ecologically sensitive and attentive to the “common home”, is present in the Final Document of the Amazon Synod. Also, as expressed in the Declaration of Bogotá/Bacatá in our Seminar “From the Right to Water to the Right to Peace” that accompanied Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Colombia: “Water is an essential common good, an existential and transcendental factor a supreme and sacred element for the expression of life in all its manifestations”.
The Final Document of the Amazon Synod reminds us that “… interest and concern for the promotion and respect of human rights, both individual and collective, is not optional.” and this is not “merely a political duty or a social task, but also -and above all- a demand for faith. We may not be able to modify immediately the prevailing destructive and extractivist development model, but we do need to know and make it clear: Where do we stand? Who are we next to? What perspective do we assume? How do we transmit the political and ethical dimension of our word of faith and life? ”
That is why reflecting and proposing questions that lead us to new solutions guides us towards innovation to work on the changes that the future of the planet requires. A collaborative, dialogical and interdisciplinary work will allow us to achieve those essential goals and prepare the necessary training to form a strong ecological conscience and a real and pragmatic commitment to achieving the common good.
Planning and forecasting a future for the planet, and for all of us who live on it, requires the consideration of strategies that lead us to think beyond our own interests, conclusions and views. In this context, the horizon for achieving effective solutions has shortened. We need to iterate more frequently to assess effective progress.
In this sense, as Pope Francis expressed in his final speech in the Amazon Synod, the Amazon “is a symbol” on “a path of compulsive exploitation, of destruction.” In this ecological, environmental and deeply human dimension, the future is at stake.
- Promoting the joint construction of practical proposals and innovations applicable to critical and concrete situations related to access to water (health, work, poverty, food, economy, infrastructure).
- Identifying the key actors to achieve the objective of the Right of all people to access quality water and sanitation services, with special attention to vulnerable populations.
- Analyzing the impact -in terms of inclusion, equality and Fundamental Rights- of the lack of access to water in populations and vulnerable segments.
- Carrying out a multidimensional analysis of possible future scenarios regarding access to quality water and protection of the resource.
- Discussing the ethical foundations that underlie technical, political and management decisions in relation to the Right to Water and the protection of the resource, analyzing the role and value of education.
- Analyzing and assessing sustainable and inclusive development models, essential for the transformation of public policies, with special emphasis on water governance and critical watersheds.
- Discussing the articulation between the climate crisis, ecosystems and critical watersheds, and access to water in relation to the governance of the resource.
- Debating ways of articulating projects, programs and proposals aimed at achieving a decent quality of life, considering that good governance requires respect for fundamental Human Rights, avoiding sectoral fragmentation and bureaucratic competition.
- Observing and analyzing the concrete proposals and experiences emerged from the situations raised around water in the ‘Encyclical Laudato Si’, the 2030 SDG Agenda, the emerging agreements of the COP21 in Paris and the Amazon Synod.
- Proposing the extension to other regions of the planet of the debates and situations observed in the Amazon Synod as problems that affect the planet in relation to the possibility of a future for all humanity.
- Assessing the social and political conflicts emerging from the lack of access to water and its consequences in terms of violation of fundamental Human Rights.