Social Action Office

Catholic Social Teaching (CST)

Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past. The public in general as well as political leaders are concerned about this problem, and experts from a wide range of disciplines are studying its causes. Moreover, a new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge which, rather than being downplayed, ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programmes and initiatives.

Pope John Paul II, January 1990

Catholic Social Teaching reminds us that human beings are called to act as stewards safeguarding the integrity of creation. We need to change our ways of seeing the world, of thinking and behaving, as we accept our responsibility to protect earth’s finite natural resources.

A New Earth - The Environmental Challenge
2002 Social Justice Sunday Statement
Catholic Earthcare Australia

New! The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has issued a new note on water, entitled Water, an essential element for life. It was presented by Cardinal Martino as a contribution to the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto on 22 March 2003.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

An adequate supply of freshwater across the world is now considered one of the major problems facing the future. This was one of the issues recognised at the Millennium Summit in September 2000 when 147 Heads of State and Government and 191 nations in total adopted the Millennium Declaration, which set out specific targets for development and poverty eradication. Australia is a member of the United Nations and therefore would be a signatory to this Declaration. In relation to water they pledged that by 2015 they would reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe and affordable drinking water.

The Millennium Assembly of the United Nations
UN Millennium Development Goals
Choike - Millennium Development Goals

International Year of FreshWater (IYFW)

Conscious of the importance of the crisis and as a way of furthering the MDGs the United Nations on 12 December 2002 declared that 2003 would be the International Year of FreshWater, with World Water Day being celebrated on March 22. The IYFW aims to:

  • raise awareness of the importance of protecting and managing freshwater
  • encourage us to see 2003 as a year of opportunity
  • focus attention on protecting and respecting water resources as individuals, communities, countries, and as global citizens
  • invite us to reflection and action, to mend our ways, to take stock, to make a difference
  • help us realise that by protecting our freshwater we help to ensure the future of both the earth community and the earth’s long-term prospects.

Water is so abundant yet so scarce. A satellite photograph of Earth highlights just how much of the surface of the planet is water. What we see is more water than land. More than 97% of this water is saltwater. Less than 1% of freshwater is usable. The majority of freshwater is beyond our reach, locked into polar snow and ice or inaccessible groundwater.

Water usage is increasing everywhere. The world’s six billion inhabitants already appropriate 54% of all the accessible freshwater contained in rivers, lakes and underground aquifers and by 2025 this will rise to 70%! Global water consumption has risen almost tenfold since 1900 and many parts of the world are now reaching the limits of their supply. World population is expected to increase by 45% in the next thirty years, whilst freshwater runoff is expected to increase by 10%.

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has predicted that by 2020 water shortage will be a serious worldwide problem. One third of the world’s population is already facing problems due to both water shortage and poor drinking water quality. A safe supply of water will be a major issue in the coming decades. It will not only be a source of conflict within and between countries but its lack will result in massive outbreaks of disease, malnourishment and crop failure.

At a human level the recommended basic water requirement per person per day is 50 litres. But people can get by with about 30 litres: 5 litres for drinking and cooking and another 25 to maintain hygiene. The reality for millions comes nowhere near this. In Gambia the average use per person is 4.5 litres per day; in Tanzania it is 10.1; in Great Britain it is 200 and in the USA it is 500.

Not only do humans need water for their survival but other species also need it for theirs. Human activities have greatly modified the water cycle, with far-reaching ecological and economic consequences. Water is increasingly diverted from rivers or wetlands which upsets the balance of the ecosytems involved. As well, in many parts of the world, watercourses and aquifers are contaminated, and here in Australia the danger of increased salination is very real. Within Australia water reform comes under the umbrella, not just of State and city/town, but also under the mandate of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), a body formed to “initiate, develop and monitor the implementation of policy reforms which are of national significance and which require cooperative action” (COAG website).

Council of Australian Governments (COAG) - National Water Initiative
Murray-Darling Basin Commission
New Internationalist magazine on-line
UNESCO - Water
UNESCO - World Water Assessment Programme
Radio National - Earthbeat

For a personal reflection on the global water crisis from a Christian perspective visit:


How are we going to use water wisely and effectively, while meeting the needs of everyone, especially the poor, and the right of all to safe water and sanitation? How are we going to handle competing needs and prevent conflicts? How are we to preserve the ecological function of water in the face of growing human needs?

Management strategies at global, national and state levels must be established. Within the Australian context planning has already begun. Many cities and towns have already water conservation and use strategies in place.

WaterSmart - Planning for the future of our water resources
Sydney Water - Environment Plan
ACT Water Resources Legislation

Many groups, both NonGovernment Organisations (NGOs) and others, are concerned about the present trend toward the ‘privatisation’ of water. This makes water just a commodity that can be traded, whereas Catholic Social Teaching demands that water is seen to be a common good. The Australian Government, as a partner in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is currently under pressure from the European Union to treat water services purely as traded goods. This would threaten most state governments’ policies of public ownership and price regulation of water services to ensure that they remain accessible and affordable to all Australians.

Personal conversion must also be a challenge, especially for Australians who live in a country with the lowest annual availability of freshwater. It requires that we consider the land we live on and change our attitudes towards our scarcest natural resource - water. If we are to reduce the amount of water we use in order that future generations may survive then we have to become aware of how much water we use and change our water consumption patterns. Some websites that could help in recognising the amount of water we use can help our awareness of this. Some have ways of decreasing our use and changing our ideas about what is appropriate for the Australian landscape, e.g. our historical use of green lawns and European flowers when other varieties might be much less water-consuming. It is a well documented fact that in residential areas the two places where the most water is used are the bathroom and the garden.

Water Matters
Human Use of Water - Are you a Waterholic? (Australia's leading source on water conservation)

Special Events

Throughout the world there will be significant events to highlight the IYFW (updated July 2005). Some are:

  • 16-23 March 2003 - Kyoto - 3rd World Water Forum
  • Mexico 2006 - 4th World Water Forum
  • 22 March - World Water Day - events held in many countries including Australia
  • 6-9 September - International Riversymposium 2005 (Water and Food Security - Rivers in a Global Context) during the Riverfestival Brisbane 2005
  • 9 September - The great Water Walk - a day of action
  • 19-25 October - National Water Week
Actions To Take
  1. Water Matters! Make a splash for the world’s poor (4 mins) - TEAR Australia
  2. Rivers Alive! (19 mins) - Queensland Conservation Council and The Wilderness Society
Both these are available for short-term borrowing from SAO.


  • Water Meditation and Water of Life Ritual
    From: Sparks of the Cosmos by Margie Abbott rsm, MediaCom Education Inc, Unley South Australia
This book is available for short-term borrowing from SAO.


  • Freshwater: A precious resource
    Peter Beattie - Premier’s Policy Scan, Issue 7, Dec 2002; Department of the Premier and Cabinet
  • Water for Queensland
    Department of Primary Industries - Water Resources Commission (1989)
  • Water Justice for all. Global and local resistance to the control and commodification of water
    Friends of the Earth International, Issue 102, January 2003
  • Water. Every drop counts
    The New Internationalist, March 2003
  • Blueprint for a living continent
    The Wentworth Group (WWF Australia) 2002



Go to Home PageSocial Action OfficeGo to top of page
Social Action Office
© Social Action Office - CLRIQ, Brisbane Australia