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Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, May 2, 2018.
Andrew Medichini/AP
Water & Sanitation

Pope Francis Says Selling Water Is 'Incompatible' With Human Rights

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Around 30% of the global population lacks access to clean drinking water, and 60% lack access to adequate sanitation systems, putting millions of people at risk of disease. You can join us in taking action on this issue and the other Global Goals here.

Pope Francis lambasted unequal access to safe drinking water at a water management conference on Thursday in Rome, according to ABC News.

The pope said that it was “enormously shameful” that people die from easily preventable waterborne diseases and that the trend toward the privatization of water is “incompatible” with the human right to clean water.

“Water is essential for life,” Pope Francis said at the Pontifical Urban University. “In many parts of the world, our brothers and sisters cannot have a dignified life because of the lack of access to clean water.”

“The dramatic statistics of thirst, especially the situation of those people who get sick and often die because of unhealthy water, is a huge shame for the humanity of the 21st century,” Pope Francis added.

In the past, the religious leader has called for greater access to water and sanitation and has urged world leaders to sustainably manage the global environment to mitigate climate change.

Take Action: Urge Governments And Businesses To Invest In Clean Water And Toilets

His latest lament over water was couched in a familiar framework of inequality.

All around the world, water rights have been sold to companies for bottling or other purposes, or packaged into public and private partnerships that nonetheless create profit incentives around water distribution, according to the Guardian.

These efforts have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as access to clean water remains a glaring source of poverty.

Globally, 30% of people lack access to clean drinking water, and 60% of people don’t have access to safely managed sanitation systems, according to the United Nations. For people in water-scarce regions, women and girls are often relegated to water-collecting roles, which prevents them from going to school and pursuing careers.

India-Daily-Life-Water.jpgImage: Anupam Nath/AP

Read More: A Walk in Women's Shoes - The Journey for Water

Without adequate waste management infrastructure, sewage can contaminate water supplies and often leads to infectious diseases. Every day, more than 1,000 children die from waterborne illnesses, and millions of people are infected with diseases of poverty because of poor water quality each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Water security is closely linked to climate change and the UN estimates that more than 5 billion people could be affected by water shortages by 2050.

In various countries, water supplies are increasingly becoming sources of anxiety.

For example, Lake Chad has shrunk by 95% in recent decades, putting millions of people at risk of famine. In Shanghai, 85% of the city’s drinking rivers are too polluted to draw water from. Melting glaciers throughout Asia, meanwhile, could deprive millions of people of drinking water.

Earlier this year, Cape Town narrowly averted becoming the first major city in the world to run out of water.

Cape-Town-Drought-South-Africa.jpgCape Town's main water supply from the Theewaterskloof dam outside Grabouw, Cape Town, Feb. 1, 2018.
Image: Bram Janssen/AP

Read More: Photos of Cape Town in Crisis as the City's Water Runs Out

Emerging water insecurity could eventually lead to conflicts. Some analysts argue that the civil war in Syria was partially fueled by a devastating drought linked to climate change.

The pope has advocated on behalf of refugees and migrants, indigenous people, and people living in poverty.

His latest call to action fits right in with his overarching campaign for justice.

“The Holy See and the Church are committed to access to drinking water for all,” Pope Francis said on Thursday.