Rutgerd Boelens (CEDLA-UvA and Wageningen University) and Joyeeta Gupta (GPIO-UvA) visiting Pope Francis to discuss the Human Right to Water


Asking for advice on global policies regarding the Human Right to Water, Pope Francis and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences invited Prof. Rutgerd Boelens and Prof. Joyeeta Gupta to share their views in a two-days Vatican meeting (23-24 February 2017), among a group of world’s scholars and leaders on Water Governance. During the meeting, the Pope emphasized how the issue of confronting water injustices and supporting fair public water policies worldwide is one of his top priorities. “Every day a thousand children die from water-related illnesses and millions of persons consume polluted water. The right to water lays the foundation for all other rights and is decisive for the future of humanity”. Boelens coordinates the international Water Justice Alliance that investigates the problems of water accumulation and conflicts, and civil actions that foster more democratic water governance. The social justice agenda of the Vatican meeting, looking for trans-disciplinary mechanisms to construct a respectful and equitable ‘water culture’, largely coincided with the questions the Water Justice alliance and CEDLA work on.

Debates evolved around water scarcity among marginalized population sectors being a politically constructed phenomenon driven by unequal power relationships rather than a ‘natural problem’ caused by the wickedness of Nature. The meeting discussed how the current politico-economic system causes global warming, human-made climate change, water grabbing and industrial extractivism depleting water resources. Boelens and colleague researcher Jerry van de Berge were invited also in their roles as, respectively, ambassador and international coordinator of the European Citizens Initiative ‘Water is a Human Right’. This citizens movement successfully mobilized nearly two million persons in European member states to demand the European Parliament to ask for a halt to Europe’s privatization policies in the drinking water sector.

The Vatican debate started from the premise that inter-human solidarity, water as a fundamental right, and commitment with people’s own communities and water governance cultures is key. It emphasized the need for “building and making real the public value of water and sanitation and to question any privatization or commercial attempt which may change the status of citizens to that of clients”. A main principle in the “Declaration of Rome”, drafted and signed during the two-days meeting, was that economic interests should not prevail over human life.