By Roslyn Brock, Vice President, Advocacy and Government Relations, Bon Secours Health System and Board Chair, NAACP
As anyone who has ever been thirsty can attest, access to clean drinking water is something no one should ever be denied. Yet every day, over one billion people, one seventh of the world’s population, lack access to freshwater that is safe for human consumption and every day 6,000 children die of water-borne illness. As shocking as these figures are, we likely distance ourselves from their full impact with the assumption that the only people included in these figures are those living in developing countries far across the globe.
That is, until we open the newspaper and read about the water crisis currently taking place in Flint, Michigan.
As an organization committed to bringing persons and communities to health and wholeness, Bon Secours Health System understands that health outcomes are directly tied to social and economic systems and that building a healthy community requires a systemic approach that addresses all basic human needs. In 2013, Bon Secours Ministries issued a Corporate Statement on Water affirming that this resource “is a sacred right that connects all life and access to clean water is a basic human right.” The statement further affirms that ”freshwater is a shared legacy, a public trust and a collective responsibility.”
In Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home, he points out that “Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with the inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behavior within the context of great inequality.” (Laudato Si’ #30)
As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King noted, “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” In our shareholder advocacy work through ICCR, we have collaborated with like-minded investors to promote corporate and systemic reforms that will improve access and affordability of heath care for all, especially for those persons who are most vulnerable: and as an essential factor for health, access to safe water is an important part of this work.
As the UN recently acknowledged through its adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), water lies at the very core of sustainable development. With links to all the other SDGs, goal six, to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” would go a long way towards achieving much of the 2030 SDG agenda. Through global ministries in Africa, Haiti and Peru, the Sisters of Bon Secours have witnessed first-hand how the provision of basic services like water can lead to empowerment and prosperity, or chronic disease, intractable poverty and even violence. They understand that water and sanitation are essential for life, health and dignity and view access to water as a human right that is afforded every person. When safe drinking water is denied to a community, as it has been for the past year in Flint Michigan, we understand this as a major public health failure and as a human rights violation. Further, when 57% of Flint residents are African-American and 42% are living below the poverty line, we cannot help but see this as an issue with significant justice implications.
In my role as Board Chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), I am responsible for promoting our vision to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. While we believe the Flint crisis is a clear illustration of environmental discrimination, our immediate concern is remediation and the protection of residents, particularly children, from further exposure to toxic water. The NAACP has put forward a response to help mitigate the worst impacts of the water crisis and restore Flint resident’s right to safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation. Our 20-point list of priorities to address the needs of Flint residents is based on a long-term redevelopment and economic development plan and is guided by the principles of:
1) Equity and Justice
We encourage you to read the full plan and support its points as you are able. While a full resolution of the water crisis will take time and the commitment of many stakeholder groups, as a person of deep faith I know we will achieve our goals and restore the Flint community to health and wholeness.
We believe these 20 priorities provide a roadmap which points the way forward to an equitable and sustainable plan and hope we can count on all social justice and health care advocates to support it. Let it not be said that “I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink.”