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Vatican conserving water

While Rome reels from one of its worst droughts in decades, the Vatican is doing its part to conserve water by shutting down the city-state's 100 fountains.
 
The office governing Vatican City State announced July 25 that the drought has "led the Holy See to take measures aimed at saving water" by shutting down fountains in St. Peter's Square, throughout the Vatican Gardens and in the territory of the state.
 
"The decision is in line with the teachings of Pope Francis, who reminds us in his encyclical 'Laudato Si'' how 'the habit of wasting and discarding' has reached 'unprecedented levels' while 'fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,'" the office said.
 
The prolonged drought has forced officials from the Lazio region of Italy to halt pumping water from Lake Bracciano, located roughly 19 miles north of Rome. Less than usual rainfalls in the past two years have steadily depleted the lake, which provides 8 percent of the city's water supply.
 
In an interview with Italian news outlet Tgcom24, Nicola Zingaretti, the region's president, said the lake's water level has "fallen too much and we risk an environmental disaster."
 
While the drought already forced Rome city officials to shut down some of Rome's public drinking fountains in June, it may lead to strict water rationing for the city's estimated 1.5 million residents.
 
City officials may also take the Vatican's lead and shut down water pouring down from Rome's many ancient fountains.
 
Pilgrims and visitors alike have marveled at the majestic fountains of St. Peter's Square that have cascaded water for centuries since their construction in the 17th century.
 
While the source of water was once provided from an ancient Roman aqueduct, the two fountains, as well as 10 percent of Vatican City State's 100 fountains "recirculate water currently," Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service in a July 25 email.
 
Others, he added, "will eventually be transformed in order to recirculate" the same water rather than let it be wasted by running into the drainage or sewer system.
Burke told CNS that the Vatican's move to switch off the fountains located within its territory is "a way to show a good example" in conserving water as the city deals with the crisis.
 
"We're not going to be able to solve Rome's water problem this summer, but we can do our part," Burke said. "This is the Vatican putting 'Laudato Si'' into action. Let's not waste water."
 
  • Published in World

Inequality of basic needs

Pope Francis noted in “Laudato Si’” how environmental degradation has a disproportionate adverse impact on the impoverished of the world.
 
That is quite easy to see in the developing world. However, it is a little more subtle here in the United States and in the rest of the industrialized West.
 
Take the city of Flint, Mich., and its crisis of lead in the city water. By every measure, this community is a poor and primarily minority population. Unemployment in Flint runs about 1 percent above the national rate. More than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. In 2015 the median household income was under $25,000 -- less than half of the national median household income. Less than 83 percent of its residents are high school graduates and only 11.2 percent are college graduates.
 
The combination of population characteristics in Flint is often associated with a relatively powerless population.
 
In contrast, more than 91 percent of Vermont residents are high school graduates and more than 40 percent have higher levels of education.
 
Flint has been in the news because of its water problems.
 
Prevention of lead poisoning has long been an essential aspect of running public water systems.
 
Lead poisoning was recognized in ancient Roman and Greek times; it was known to be toxic to the human body and to have an adverse effect on the human mind.
Without rehashing all the details from Flint, changes made to the water system resulted in lead being leached from antiquated lead pipes.
 
The process lacked due diligence for the safety of the residents. There was also a failure by public officials to alert the community to the hazard after the problem was recognized. Delays in remediation and communication of the hazard were costly to the health of many children.
 
A child’s brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning; lead poisoning results in reduced intellectual and emotional growth along with behavioral problems. Those health and social problems will continue impose burdens on these impoverished families and society for decades to come.
 
Flint’s poverty clearly played a role in this tragedy. City officials, perhaps operating in very good faith, saw an opportunity to reduce the cost of its water system and moved to take advantage of the savings without having done a sufficiently thorough engineering analysis that would have identified the potential problems and prevented the disastrous consequences. A more prosperous city might not have seen the need to take the risk or revamping the water system.
 
This is but one example of lead or other toxic chemicals in the drinking water, the air or the soil in less-affluent communities in the United States. Lead has been ubiquitous in paint on the walls of older housing stock in poor communities. Lead can even be carried in dust and transported by wind. The consequences of these hazards fall on the impoverished residents of those communities. According to a report from Reuters News Service, high levels of blood lead in children have recently been identified in nearly 3,000 other U.S. locations, including large cities and small towns.1
 
In Vermont, the chemical PFOA2 has migrated in ground water to North Bennington from a manufacturing plant in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. PFOA is suspected of causing cancer. Vermont officials and company officials have endeavored to respond appropriately to the needs of local residents, but in this situation it is hard to predict what the final economic and health burdens for residents will be.3 These burdens are worse for the poor since limited financial resources limit options to remedy a problem.
 
The moral imperative is clear. Health effects of hazardous materials must be properly and pro-actively addressed by public officials and private sector decision makers. There can be no excuse for exposing human beings to risk of significant harm, whether by overt action or by failure to act. With deteriorating infrastructure and increased budgetary pressures, I fear the problem may even get worse. The effects will disproportionately harm the impoverished and the voiceless.
 
 
Footnotes:
1 www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa- lead-testing/
2 PFOA: Perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical used in producing Teflon.
3 www.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/nyregion/vermont-town- is-latest- to-face- pfoa-tainted- water-scare.html?_r=0


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Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.
 

Clean, safe water is a 'luxury'

There is a flood of concern about water today.
 
That concern is related to the environment, to human rights, to politics, to security.
 
Think of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., where cost-cutting measures led to tainted drinking water that contained lead and other toxins.
 
Many water delivery systems throughout the United States use lead pipes, and lead breaks down over time, especially when exposed to corrosive water.
 
According to the American Water Works Association, there are 6 million lead lines in American water systems today.
 
And according to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 2.5 percent of children in the United States have elevated levels of lead in their blood, a direct result of drinking contaminated water.
 
Water privatization – when private corporations buy or operate public water utilities – is often suggested as a solution to municipal budget problems and aging water systems. This often backfires, leaving communities with higher rates, worse service and job losses, notes foodandwaterwatch.org.
 
Some consider water scarcity a major threat to national security.
 
But government and private agencies are helping to make clean water more accessible. According to the World Heath Organization, in 2015, 91 percent of the world’s population had access to an improved drinking-water source, compared to 76 percent in 1990; 2.6 billion people had gained access to an improved drinking-water source.
 
Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such including cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio.
 
“It’s a human right to have access to clean, safe water,” emphasized Carolyn Crowley Meub, executive director of the Rutland-based Pure Water for the World, adding that provisions must be made to pay for the infrastructure. “In developing countries [those who] go in and build a system need funds for [future] maintenance and repairs. You need the money to keep the infrastructure going.”
 
Pure Water for the World is a non-profit organization with a mission to improve the health and livelihood of children and families, living in underserved communities in Central America and the Caribbean, by providing effective tools and education to establish sustainable safe water, hygiene and sanitation solutions.
 
It receives support from a variety of sources including Catholic parishes, schools and religious.
 
But water issues revolve around more than potability; for some, water is non-accessible or it is non-existent.
 
Imagine if everyone in France spent every working hour collecting water. The United Nations estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 40 billion hours per year collecting water. That's the same as an entire year of labor in all of France. That's time that children could be spending in school and parents could be conducting income-generating activities.
 
In 2015, 319 million people in sub-Saharan Africa did not have access to an improved, reliable drinking water source.
 
Father Romanus Igweonu, pastor of St. Bridget and St. Stanislaus Kostka churches in West Rutland and St. Dominic Church in Proctor, grew up in eastern Nigeria where he experienced what he called three categories of water users: those in rural areas, suburban areas and cities.
 
He recalled growing up in a rural area in the 1970s and 1980s, riding his bicycle over rough terrain for 15 miles to get 20 liters of drinking water in jerry cans for his family of seven. Though the water was potable, his father – a teacher – insisted the family set an example and boil and filter the water before drinking it to prevent diseases like Guinea worm.
 
At other times, Father Igweonu walked about three miles to fetch water in pottery jars from a pond. The water had to be purified and filtered and was used for cooking and bathing.
 
But fetching the water was not a chore; it was recreation. “We chatted and walked together with other families,” he recalled. It was a way to build community.
 
The family moved to a suburban area when he was in high school. The government had built dams to create ponds as a water source. The distance to walk for that water was about a mile, and it had to be boiled.
 
When the pond dried in the dry season, people dug holes to reach the water about five feet below the surface. “When you dug it, it became your spot,” Father Igweonu said.
 
If that water source dried up, the nearest spring was about 15 miles away, and there people had to stand in line to get their water, an endeavor that could take a whole day.
 
It was a “noble trip” to get drinking water for the family during water scarcity, he said.
 
Later The United Nations International Children's Fund built a bore hole so people could access water with a hand pump, water that did not have to be boiled. But there was not enough water: Father Igweonu likened it to all of West Rutland having one water source. And sometimes people were impatient and tried to cut in line or fought while waiting in line.
 
When he lived in an urban area, water was available in homes, but the water delivery was unreliable because the electricity needed to power it was unreliable; some people kept a bucket of water for use during a power outage.
 
As a priest in Nigeria, he had to have someone get his water so he could be available for his priestly work in a parish with 12 churches. “Here [in the United States] it is easy to get water. It is a luxury for me.”
 
But he cautioned that the developed world must have a plan so that water resources are sustainable.
 
“Clean drinking water, safe hygiene practices and proper sanitation are essential to thriving communities. They are prerequisites to human health and wellbeing and play a fundamental role in economic stability,” Meub said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to every community’s water problems. Instead, we partner with communities, working together to develop customized, sustainable solutions that meet their needs and eliminate waterborne illnesses.”
 
It’s easy to take water for granted and get “cranky” if water doesn’t come out of the faucet as it should, she said.
 
She encourages vigilance about water practices even in Vermont.  “Just because we have it now doesn’t mean we always will.”
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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