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World faces pressing need to protect water, Vatican official tells U.N.


UNITED NATIONS — The right to clean water is a basic and pressing need for all people of the planet because without water “there is no life,” said the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations.

A man bathes at a public well in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 22. (CNS photo/Dinuka Liyanawatte, Reuters)

A man bathes at a public well in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 22. (CNS photo/Dinuka Liyanawatte, Reuters)

Addressing a U.N. meeting on water-related issues under the world body’s sustainable development goals March 22, Archbishop Bernardito Auza called on all nations to recognize the responsibility to care for and share water because it is a life-sustaining resource.

The archbishop’s comments came as World Water Day was being observed. The day has been set aside by international agencies and governments to focus attention on the need for universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in developing countries. Events also focus on advocating for sustainable management of freshwater resources.

WaterAid, a London-based international organization that helps communities access clean water and proper hygiene, said about 633 million people, nearly 10 percent of the world’s population, cannot get the water they need. The group made the comments in a report released March 22.

Archbishop Auza said there is an urgent need to protect and care for the earth, particularly its water supplies.

“Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right and a condition for sustainable development,” Archbishop Auza said. “Thus, it needs to be put front and center in public policy, in particular in programs to life people out of poverty.”

The U.N. nuncio said that competition for water can destabilize nations especially where aquatic resources cross national boundaries. He pointed to water experts and advocates who “ominously predict that the Third World War will be about water.”

Archbishop Auza also cited Pope Francis’ address to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which he visited in Rome in 2014, advising the staff that “water is not free” and that its protection is vital to prevent war.

“Thus, rather than causing conflict,” the archbishop continued, “the need for water sharing should be an opportunity for cross-border cooperation and greater efforts toward adopting binding instruments to ensure stable and predictable transnational relations.”

He said nongovernmental organizations, joined by each person, must “assume our responsibilities” to preserve clean water for present and future generations to preserve peace and ensure that the earth is “more habitable and fraternal place, where no one is left behind and all are able to eat, drink, live healthy lives and grow in accordance with their dignity.”

Archbishop Auza also noted that an all-day conference being held that day at the Vatican, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Club of Rome. Titled “Watershed: Replenishing Water Values for a Thirsty World,” it drew about 400 policymakers, academics, business leaders and grass-roots advocates.

In a greeting to English speakers at his general audience, Pope Francis welcomed the participants, describing the conference as “yet another stage in the joint commitment of various institutions to raising consciousness about the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone, mindful too of its cultural and religious significance.”


More information about World Water Day is available online at www.worldwaterday.org.

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Photo of the week: Syria’s children


Catholic News Service

Syrian children risk becoming ‘lost generation,’ Vatican official says

 VATICAN CITY — Without family, a legal identity and adequate education, children uprooted by the ongoing violence in Syria and the Middle East “are at risk of becoming a lost generation,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva.

Syrian refugee children at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan form the word "Syria" during an event to commemorate four years of the Syrian conflict, March 15. (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Syrian refugee children at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan form the word “Syria” during an event to commemorate four years of the Syrian conflict, March 15. (CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

The archbishop noted that “children suffer the brutal consequences” of war and called for a “comprehensive system of protection for children” in these conflict zones.

“In camps throughout the Middle East, children constitute approximately half of the refugee population and they are the most vulnerable demographic group,” he said during a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council March 17.

Archbishop Tomasi noted the grave situation of these children: Many are separated from their families, live in poverty and have difficulty accessing basic services. In this defenseless state, some are recruited and trained as soldiers or used as human shields.

Islamic State militants have “worsened the situation by training and using children as suicide bombers, killing children who belong to different religious and ethnic communities, selling children as slaves in markets, executing large numbers of boys and committing other atrocities,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Tomasi underlined three issues regarding the protection of children in these conflict zones.

The first is the issue of stateless children, of whom there are millions worldwide, who “according to the law, were never born,” he said. According to U.N. estimates, about 30,000 stateless children are now living in Lebanon.

“Stateless children cross international borders alone and find themselves completely abandoned,” he said. Children below age 11 and “without documents” do not have access to basic services, cannot go to school and “are likely to be adopted illegally, recruited in an armed group, abused, exploited or forced into prostitution,” he said.

Furthermore, there are several thousand children “scattered in camps and other asylum countries” who have not been registered as refugees.

“These are ‘phantom kids’ whose parents have escaped from Syria but whose name and date of birth were never registered at any office,” the archbishop explained.

Child statelessness can be addressed by “simplifying mechanisms and requirements for registration, waiving fees (and) advocating for refugee inclusive registration legislation,” he suggested.

The second issue is the “urgent need for an education system” in refugee camps, especially since it is now clear the refugee situation is not temporary, as initially thought, he said. Currently, the teacher-student ratio in the camps is about 40-to-1,000 and only 50 percent of Syrian child refugees living in neighboring countries receive education, he said.

He cited statistics that about 5,000 schools in Syria were destroyed while others remain under attack, leaving 1.5 million children without schooling. Islamic State militants closed schools in areas under their control, he said.

The third issue is that the “generalized violence” leads to the breakdown of families, forcing “many minors to fend for themselves,” he said.

“An additional effort should be made to facilitate the reunification of minors with their respective families,” the archbishop urged. He emphasized that peace in the region is “the priority for healthy growth of all children.”

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic reports more than 10 million Syrians, almost half of the country’s population, are displaced and more than 3 million Syrians are refugees in neighboring countries.


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Arms trade threatens peace, harms poor, UN observer says


VATICAN CITY — The unregulated sale and transfer of weapons and weapons’ technology harm the poor and threaten peace and security around the world, a Vatican official told a U.N. meeting.

Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, addressed a committee preparing for the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty; the conference will be in July.

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