November 22
Security Council Open Debate on “Maintenance of international peace and security: water, peace and security

Intervention of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to theUnited Nations
United Nations Security Council Open Debate on
Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Water, Peace and Security

New York, 22 November 2016

Mr. President,

The Holy See is pleased that the Presidency of Senegal has chosen this important topic for Open Debate in the Security Council, thus increasing the attention the international community will pay to it.

Water scarcity illustrates a paradox: while water covers two-thirds of the Earth’s surface and is not used up when consumed, it is clear that the availability of fresh water is diminishing. With expanding deserts, deforestation and increasing droughts, everyone should be concerned about a potential worldwide calamity caused by a diminished water supply.

Water has always been scarce in some places due to their geographical location, but in others, it is scarce because of mismanagement and misallocation, resulting in waste and inequitable distribution. Environmental degradation makes water toxic and climactic changes alter hydrologic cycles. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. Industrial waste, detergents and chemical products continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas. Agricultural production, the greatest consumer of fresh water, and industries, the second greatest consumer, demand water more than ever, depleting aquifers much faster than they can be replenished.

In many places, demand for water exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences for the short and long term, including implications for national, regional and international peace and security. Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts that impede agricultural production and provoke fierce competition. The migration of entire populations from regions that endure drastic water scarcity is seen as a threat to populations in areas with water.

In brief, the implications of water for national, regional and international peace and security can hardly be overstated. Indeed, water experts and advocates ominously predict that the Third World War will be about water. When he visited the FAO in 2014, Pope Francis said: “Water is not free, as we so often think. It is a grave problem that can lead to war.”[1]

Water scarcity also has huge implications for justice and equity. As Pope Francis underlined in the Encyclical Laudato Si’, fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance for its fundamental role in health and overall wellbeing.[2] In this context, one particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water-borne diseases, like dysentery and cholera, remain a leading cause of death, especially among infants and children.

Moreover, a growing tendency to privatize water and turn it into a commodity dictated by market laws could seriously compromise access to safe water on the part of the poor, making it conceivable, Pope Francis said, “that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.”[3] While good water management implies expenditures as well as fees for water use to encourage its wise consumption, it is even more important to remember that 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. Pope Francis affirmed that our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.[4]

Mr. President,

Water-related challenges to peace and security, indeed to life itself, must not only be considered as threats, but also as opportunities for nations to collaborate more closely to come up with solutions, instead of engaging in ever fiercer competition for a diminishing essential resource that could ultimately lead to wars and conflicts. New technologies continue to emerge that could enable us to avoid a sustainability crisis through, inter alia, better methods of food production that require less water and industrial manufacturing that minimizes pollution of our aquifers and water systems.

Moreover, local and traditional solutions to water-related challenges must not be abandoned in spite of technological advances. My delegation wishes to encourage both the public and private sectors to support community-driven initiatives for water conservation and water allocation. Local communities often know better their own water systems and how best to conserve and harness them. While the water shortage concerns vast areas, local solutions are always key components to coming to grips with the water problem.

Finally, education on the fundamental importance of water is crucial. Water continues to be wasted and polluted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries that possess it in relative abundance. This shows that there is much to do in educating individuals and communities on issues such as water conservation, wise consumption, and equitable use of this universal common good on the part of all. It is important to cultivate among peoples and their leaders a conscientious awareness that considers access to water as a universal right of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination. The water challenges provoking peace and security threats are technical, economic, political, social, but let us not forget that, ultimately, they are ethical and moral issues as well.

Thank you, Mr. President.
1. Pope Francis, Greetings to the Staff of FAO, 20 November 2014.
2. Paragraphs 27 to 31.
3. Laudato Si’ §31.
4. Laudato Si’ §30.