By Molly Brown
This is the second in a series of columns based on Pope Francis’s Encyclical, “Care for Our Common Home.” Part II of the Encyclical addresses “The Issue of Water” and begins:
“Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet 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” (30).
All over the world, as the planet warms and droughts threaten huge regions, water has become the new gold. Multinational corporations see its potential as a moneymaker, and are buying up water rights wherever they can. In Lagos, Nigeria, the World Bank is trying to convince citizens that privatization is the answer to their water problems. The former CEO and now Chairman of Nestle declared that water is not a human right, and should be privatized.
All over drought-stricken California, corporations are extracting water, bottling it in individual plastic containers, and selling it to consumers at huge profit. There is good reason to suspect these corporations are not just thinking about bottling water now, but also looking to gain control of water supplies in the ever-more thirsty world of the near future. We could find ourselves needing to pay those same corporations for the water that comes from our taps – and not just for its delivery systems as we do now.
The Encyclical goes on to address what might happen then: “... it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century” (31).
We are already squandering money and lives in wars to control the world’s supply of oil. Will control of water be the root cause of new wars in the decades ahead?
It’s very tempting for local governments to pay more attention to the promised economic benefits of an industry than to the longer-term environmental damages it might inflict. However, as Pope Francis points out:
“Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained...” (36).
Our challenge as citizens, then, is to act responsibly in our own lives, conserving water and boycotting products and companies that threaten the environment and human rights. However, individual action is not enough; we also need to take action to ensure that our government at all levels: “…carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s [or community’s] environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious … international interests.” (38).

By Molly Brown This is the second in a series of columns based on Pope Francis’s Encyclical, “Care for Our Common Home.” Part II of the Encyclical addresses “The Issue of Water” and begins: “Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet 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” (30). All over the world, as the planet warms and droughts threaten huge regions, water has become the new gold. Multinational corporations see its potential as a moneymaker, and are buying up water rights wherever they can. In Lagos, Nigeria, the World Bank is trying to convince citizens that privatization is the answer to their water problems. The former CEO and now Chairman of Nestle declared that water is not a human right, and should be privatized. All over drought-stricken California, corporations are extracting water, bottling it in individual plastic containers, and selling it to consumers at huge profit. There is good reason to suspect these corporations are not just thinking about bottling water now, but also looking to gain control of water supplies in the ever-more thirsty world of the near future. We could find ourselves needing to pay those same corporations for the water that comes from our taps – and not just for its delivery systems as we do now. The Encyclical goes on to address what might happen then: “... it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century” (31). We are already squandering money and lives in wars to control the world’s supply of oil. Will control of water be the root cause of new wars in the decades ahead? It’s very tempting for local governments to pay more attention to the promised economic benefits of an industry than to the longer-term environmental damages it might inflict. However, as Pope Francis points out: “Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained...” (36). Our challenge as citizens, then, is to act responsibly in our own lives, conserving water and boycotting products and companies that threaten the environment and human rights. However, individual action is not enough; we also need to take action to ensure that our government at all levels: “…carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s [or community’s] environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious … international interests.” (38).