Catholic Social Teaching and the Human Right to Water By frankie Villar

In a world where over 600 million people lack clean, drinking water, it begs the question as to what can be done? Why isn't more being done? How can I help? Our beliefs surrounding our impact on the world needs to be taken from a communal and collectivist stand point. I see water as a basic, and necessary human right in which every single human being should be guaranteed to have it.

In Pope Francis' letter, Laudato Si, to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, he calls for the attention and focus on climate change. He urges us to take notice of the impact every individual has on the environment, and emphasizes God's calling to protect, respect, and save our sister, planet Earth. One topic that he goes into surrounds the water crisis that currently affects hundreds of millions of people world wide.

71% of the Earth's surface is covered by water


Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is the Church's main focus and beliefs regarding their devoted love for human life. CST teaches that each human life is sacred, and we must aspire to live a life as good as we can to obtain a just society. The CST highlights seven key themes surrounding the sacred values of human life:

  1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
  2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
  3. Rights and Responsibilites
  4. Option For the Poor and Vulnerable
  5. Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
  6. Solidarity
  7. Care for God's Creation


Seeing that safe and sanitary water is absolutely necessary to our survival, the issue surrounding the water crisis can be applied to Catholic Social Teaching from a social justice standpoint. The Church calls on us to protect and serve the poor, and in our world today, getting clean water to the extremely impoverished is imperative. Looking at the water crisis from a CST perspective, I think 3 main themes really capture the importance of the issue, as well as the call to care.

Life and Dignity of the Human Person

This theme is the main focus of CST. It emphasizes the importance of each human life, and sets a foundation for the moral standards of the Catholic Church. In regard to this theme, human lives are threatened every day due to the lack of clean water. We believe that each life is valuable and worth more than material things, yet people are dying every day due to the water crisis and not everything that could be done to prevent these deaths is being done.

Rights and Responsibilities

With this theme, the Church teaches that every person has a fundamental right to life and those things required for human decency. We are called to establish and protect a healthy environment. It is our responsibility to protect the things that are necessary to us as human beings, clean drinking water included. We can sit and watch as our brothers and sisters struggle to survive because they lack this dire necessity.


Under this theme, the pursuit of justice and peace is at its core. We are all God's children and because of this, we are keepers of each other. We are one family and are all expected to strive for the common good. The poor and less fortunate have fallen from those who are richer than them and it is up to everyone to aid those that need it. The only way we can effectively create change and combat the water crisis is if we do it collectively as a society. Everyone needs to play a role in aiding those who are less fortunate, especially when it comes down to this life or death situation.


Not having access to clean drinking water has severe consequences, especially on young children who are most vulnerable to disease, or worse, death. According to the ThirstProject, everyday 4,100 children under the age of 5 die from water related illness. Without water, there is no efficient way of creating sustainable agriculture production, and leads to food shortages and malnutrition.

Because of this lack of water, it has been estimated that children spend 6-8 hours collecting water every day. Women cannot get jobs due to the fact that they walk about 3.75 miles to collect water to provide to their family. Due to this time-consuming yet absolutely necessary task, economic development is hard in countries where the water crisis hits.


Many diseases and illnesses arise from not having access to clean drinking water. These diseases include cholera, diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid, and more. Each year over 200 million people are affected by parasitic disease through contaminated water. Such disease has detrimental effects on those suffering from a lack of clean drinking water. According to the World Health Organization, about 1.4 million deaths are accounted for every year from diarrhea alone. These deaths are preventable. With readily available access to water, more hand-washing and hygiene tactics can be done to prevent fecal-related illness and contamination.


According to the United Nations (UN), "Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status". All human beings are entitled to such rights and are universally protected.

As of July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized water and sanitation as a human right. This means that everyone should have sufficient access to it whether it is for domestic or personal use. Is must be safe and affordable, as well as accessible. Recognizing the human right to clean water is just the first step in moving forward to ending extreme poverty and disease in our world.

Water + "Laudito Si"

Pope Francis discusses this issue surrounding water and sanitation is his Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality. He recognizes that "Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems" (LS par. 28). Pope Francis calls on the Bishops to also recognize this dire situation that our brothers and sisters are in. The impoverished are suffering from a lack of clean, drinking water while others are wasting it. The water crisis is undignified and unjust. Pope Francis goes on to say 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 human rights" (LS, par. 30). He is reemphasizing the importance of this issue by recognizing water as a human right, and encouraging us to step up as a society to help.

Despite this recognition of water as a human right, by not only the United Nations, WHO, and the Pope of the Catholic Church, there are still hundreds of millions of people that do not have access to clean water. The poor are left to fend for themselves in search of accessible and clean water. Big corporations and those with the power to give back have not stepped up to their fullest potential to intervene. More funding and education needs to go into ending this horrible crisis.


Not only is this issue a call to care from a CST standpoint, it is necessary that society as a whole addresses the water crisis. Solidarity and communal efforts are imperative if we want to attempt to combat this issue. There are a lot of programs and non-profit organizations out there that are working to bring as much clean and accessible water to impoverished countries as possible. One company, the ThirstProject, as launched a campaign to end the water crisis. Here are a couple of the simple yet effective projects the non-profit do:

  • Building Sustainable Freshwater Wells
  • Creating Bio-Sand Water Filters
  • Spring Protection
  • Install Rainwater Catchment Systems

As a society, it is important that we take into account how precious water is, and for those that readily have access to clean water, you do not abuse it. We must take strides to preserve, conserve, and protect out water sources, and keep in mind the effects contaminated water has globally. By bringing clean water to those affected by the water crisis, it not only reduces the risks of water-related illness and mortality rates, but it can change the overall quality of life for the millions of people affected by this issue.

University of Scranton Campus

University of Scranton Students Changing Lives

While many people take an individualistic approach when it comes to global issues, or have the "one person can't make a difference" ideology, there are many people out there or try to contribute as much as possible to the common good and give back to those in need.

Here at the University, the Jesuit values and Ignatian Spirit are not only respected, but highly encouraged. Being "men and women for others" is taught in many of our classes, and is a motto for many students at the University of Scranton. While the U takes strides to be a sustainable and environmentally conscious campus, some students have gone the extra mile to exhibit such Jesuit ideals all while giving back to those in need.

One example of students giving back and challenging the water crisis issue is the creation True Thabo by two seniors, Marissa Frank and Jaclyn Campson. These girls were inspired by service trips where they saw a lack of clean drinking water. Because of this, they aspired to bring clean water to schools in African communities and educate about the health risks and concerns regarding waterborne illness. Their donations of water purification systems will change the life of hundreds. While these girls went the extra mile by sending donations to these impoverished countries and those affected by the water crisis, there are a lot of simple things we can do here at home to protect and conserve our water resources:

  • using reusable water bottles
  • taking shorter showers
  • shopping local
  • consuming less meat and more plants


  • https://www.thirstproject.org/
  • https://news.scranton.edu/articles/2018/01/stu-true-thabo.shtml
  • http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/index.cfm
  • https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/water/index.html
  • https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/water-quality/safety-planning/en/
Created By
Frankie Villar


Created with images by sasint - "children river water" • gunthersimmermacher - "pope francis audience vatican" • Chinh Le Duc - "untitled image" • Jon Flobrant - "untitled image" • Tama66 - "fountain water flow" • josemdelaa - "source jet drops of water" • James Coleman - "untitled image" • Jeff Ackley - "untitled image" • Jeff Ackley - "untitled image" • Jeff Ackley - "untitled image" • 947051 - "water pump old man" • mrjn Photography - "untitled image"

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