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Denying people water is ‘a great injustice’, says Pope at Nairobi slum

Pope Francis in Kenya during his recent papal visit (AP)

Pope Francis denounced the conditions slum-dwellers are forced to live in today, saying that access to safe water is a basic human right and that everyone should have dignified, adequate housing.

Francis insisted on access to a basic sewage system, rubbish collection, electricity as well as schools, hospitals and sport facilities during a visit to the Kangemi slum on Nairobi’s northwestern edge.

The Pope has frequently insisted on the need for the three “Ls” — land, labour and lodging — and on Friday he focused on lodging as a critical issue facing the world amid rapid urbanisation that is helping to upset Earth’s delicate ecological balance.

Kangemi is one of 11 slums dotting Nairobi, East Africa’s largest city. The shanty itself has about 50,000 residents living without basic sanitation. Most of the capital’s slums comprise a maze of single-room mud structures with iron-sheet roofing or cramped, high-rise buildings.

Francis denounced the “injustice of urban exclusion” and the similar unfair distribution of land.

“These are wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries,” Francis said.

“To deny a family water, under any bureaucratic pretext whatsoever, is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need,” he said.

Francis told the residents that people forced to live in slums actually share values that wealthier neighbourhoods can learn from: solidarity and looking out for the poor. But he said it was unjust that entire families are forced to live in unfit housing, often at exorbitant prices.

He called for a “respectful urban integration” with concrete initiatives to provide good quality housing for all.

Kenya Africa Pope

Francis referred to the problem of urban shanties in his speech to the African UN headquarters on Thursday, saying everyone has a basic right to “dignified living conditions,” and that the views of local residents must be taken into account when urban planners are designing new construction.

“This will help eliminate the many instances of inequality and pockets of urban poverty, which are not simply economic but also, and above all, social and environmental,” he said.

Kenya Africa Pope

In Kangemi, the parish of St Joseph erupted in cheers with the arrival of Francis.

The pontiff greeted some people in wheelchairs in the front row before bowing down to receive a blessing and signing a guest book.

Mombasa Archbishop Martin Kivuva welcomed Francis and said he should feel at home in Kangemi.

The parish is run by the priests of Francis’ Jesuit order.

In the tin-roofed St Joseph’s church, which serves the neighbourhood of single-story mud brick shacks, schoolchildren wearing T-shirts with Francis’ photo on them sang hymns.

Valarie Mamarome, 16, said she hopes Francis’s visit will put an end to corruption, so rampant in in Kenya.

“It leads to people being poor,” she said.

Emily Night, a mother of two who works at the parish’s HIV counselling centre, said that the Pope’s visit is giving hope to Kangemi residents who often cannot afford rubbish collection, or even the treatments necessary to purify water to make it safe for drinking.

She said that the city pipes in water only three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday, but it’s not safe to drink.

“Some people don’t have toilets in their homes,” she said. “Those that do, maybe 50 people are using it!”

Francis raised the issue of environmental deterioration in cities in his landmark encyclical “Praise Be,” saying many megacities today have simply become health threats, “not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise.”

“Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighborhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature,” he said.

Kenya Africa Pope

After the visit to Kangemi, Francis is scheduled to meet with young Kenyans and hear of their problems with violence and simply trying to live their lives as Christians at a time of Islamic extremism.

Following the encounter, Francis heads to Uganda for the second leg of his trip, where he’ll honour the country’s Anglican and Catholic martyrs.

On Sunday, he is due to arrive in the Central African Republic, the most dangerous leg of the pilgrimage given the ongoing conflict between Christians and Muslims.

The Vatican spokesman, the Revered Federico Lombardi, said Thursday night that plans hadn’t changed and that the Bangui leg of the trip was still on.