Access to water: how the Vatican helps hospitals in southern countries



“Here, when you are hospitalized, you often have to take water with you. There isn’t something for everyone. “ We are in Kisantu, a city located about a hundred kilometers south of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And at Saint-Luc hospital, which has 300 beds, access to water is so rare that management has decided to limit its use to the most essential needs, such as cleaning or washing hands before a surgery.

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“We should build a water tower, continues François Kangela, member of the Catholic relief service and installed in Kinshasa. This costs around $ 6,000, in addition to the actions required to train staff to clean sensitive areas, such as delivery tables or even toilets. In all, we need $ 8,000 to $ 10,000 per year. “

Saint-Luc Hospital is one of 150 health establishments to have been the subject, in recent months, of an expertise carried out at the initiative of the Vatican. Objective of this work piloted from Rome in 23 developing countries through a program called “Wash”: the identification of all the problems of access to water in the care centers run by the Catholic Church. This approach will be at the center of a conference organized in Rome for four days, starting on Monday, May 24, when the year Laudato Si ‘, named after Pope Francis’ ecological encyclical, ends on that day.

A long-standing commitment

In fact, this Vatican program is part of a regular plea exercised by the Holy See to recall the vital need for leaders to guarantee the populations’ access to water. For example, a delegation mandated by the Pope participated in the Kyoto World Water Forum in 2003. “Access to drinking water and sanitation are fundamental human rights, and are pillars of the defense of human dignity and the fight against poverty”, explains Tebaldo Vinciguerra, in charge of the Wash project.

Work on hospitals started last summer at the dicastery in charge of integral human development. Its prefect, the Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson, wrote to all the bishops of the world to report to the Vatican health establishments experiencing difficulties in accessing water.

Looking for funders

A few weeks later, six-page questionnaires are completed by the voluntary establishments, helping them to identify their problems. “There are shortcomings that can be easily resolved, such as repairing a tap or setting up habits such as having caregivers wash their hands regularly,” continues Tebaldo Vinciguerra. But others require more time and resources, such as drilling a well or building a water tower, for example in countries prone to severe droughts or in hospitals that pump their water into a water tower. river can be muddy in case of flood. “

So many heavier investments for which the Vatican is now looking for funding. Not easy… “It is much more rewarding for a donor to give money to finance a new operating theater, than to unblock wells, buy filters or finance pumps”, believes this Vatican official.

Other projects to be undertaken are rather educational programs. This is the case, for example, in Moroto, in northeastern Uganda. In this semi-desert region located not far from the Kenyan border, the bishop, Mgr Damiano Guzzetti, a Comboni religious, intends to rely on Roman programs to help him train the staff of the hospital and the eight centers. health of the diocese. “The hospital has a sufficient supply of water, but the centers do not”, he exposes. Before continuing: “It is not enough to install water pumps, there is a whole education to be done to explain how to use them. “

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