by Jan Lundberg
Your water is being stolen from you. The latest, greatest crime is called privatization. That people already have to pay for water through a utility seems outrageous, if we stop and question it: To look at waste in tax revenue, water could and should be free of charge. But in the U.S., for example, hundreds of billions of dollars are wasted in such time-honored programs as building new roads, making more weaponry, and chasing terrorists in the wrong places.
People accept such a screwing from government and its cronies just, in part, to be patriotic and go with the mainstream. But even those who have observed trends critically find it is shocking that among our rights that are diminishing, we are losing an assured supply of water. If we are rich, we don't have to be concerned. But over nine out of ten of us have to start worrying and taking action. It's part of the war of the rich against the poor.
Also during these modern times, pollution of our water has increased to the point that in countless cities, a person had better be able to afford a water filter or bottled water. Many of us are long since dispossessed of our birthrights as human beings. Didn't you grow up thinking ample, clean water was a right? Our masters wish us to revise that notion. Because of so many similar developments in the overall trend of corporate hegemony, the recent Culture Change Letter on nanotechnology stated as its title, "They're coming for you." Will you defend your land and water, or are most of the elements of life mere abstractions thanks to consumerism?
No one has a right to own the water. But this is what is well underway. Privatization used to mean that a government's transit department, for instance, would be taken over by a company that supposedly runs things more efficiently. Now, water supplies and water delivery systems are bought and sold by extremely large corporations that are often beyond any nation's laws. Their handmaidens are governments, banks, and others.
Clean fresh water has been becoming scarce due to overpopulation for several decades. It is also true that waste and greed are creating artificial shortages of water, as happens with food. But, behavior resulting in injustice is a symptom of overpopulation and is aggravated by population growth. One sad result of greed, waste, and overpopulation is that mismanagement and skewed priorities deprive over one billion people of access to clean fresh water. More than twice that have poor sanitation for the same reasons (source: International Rivers Network).
Water privatization turns out to be the corporate agenda of the World Bank, the World Water Council, and other globalization players. Their strategy is to speak of shortage and take advantage of it whether it is manufactured or not. Their answer is to build infrastructure oh so profitably. They want to double this kind of spending to $180 billion a year.
If the economy remains intact in the next two or three decades, between half and two-thirds of humanity are forecast to be living with severe freshwater shortages. As the world is clearly running out of clean water, the solution, according to many governments and powerful corporations as well as international development banks, is to privatize water and let the market determine price and availability.
Critique of social justice tilt
While "Their" skullduggery is
abhorrent and must be fought, we have a bigger picture to keep in view.
The bottom line is that Population Growth + Climate Change = Exponential Water
Crisis. It seems that activists and foundations are seldom concerned with
all three parts of the equation, nor are
they able to connect the elements successfully for the public's consumption.
Pumping water is almost always a petroleum exercise which means adding to greenhouse gas emissions. Petroleum-oriented agriculture wastes vast amounts of water, especially when devoted to growing beef. But just having running water (even just cold) for households is never questioned on ecological grounds despite how many people are engaging in this unsustainable activity because there are so many rationalizations. One chic rationalization for environmentalists running their taps and warming the globe is that driving a car is so much worse.
Because piecemeal reforms are not enough, what's needed is to reject the entire culture of materialism and technological excess. It is too late for reforms, due to so many years of greed satisfied by violence. At best, the mass media and almost all the alternative press offer the limited vision of reformers who have no answers for the big picture. Activists are also understandably distracted by various battles and brushfires.
Two of the more high-profile activists on the world water-rights crisis, Maude Barlow and Vandana Shiva, seem to slough off one of the obvious culprits in this crisis which is: overpopulation. Recently in Resurgence magazine, Barlow calls for "good governance" as the answer. What about stabilizing and eventually reducing human population? Ms. Shiva assumes that "[t]he culture of conservation of these 'common' rights has supported human life and all life on Earth for millennia." Actually, it was a low population size and little technological 'progress' that were bigger factors.
Brushfires versus hope
A case study or two seems to always fit into a pattern when commodification and greed are involved in "investment."
In Bolivia, the giant U.S. engineering
corporation, Bechtel, took over the water system. Rates were hiked and
protests mounted violently. The company was thrown out of the country
because the citizens were thrown up against the wall and did not intend to die
of thirst or see their crops shrivel and die. However, Bolivia's water
privatization incident is not rare; it is part of an escalating trend.
In India, reports Vandana Shiva, a company has bought the rights to the river Shivnath so that no villages nearby can obtain their traditional water. Wells within a kilometer from the river have been forcibly shut down by the company.
If water is something only for the rich to enjoy lavishly, how can poor people survive and put up with this? At this rate, soon the growth in population will make sharing water cooperatively more clearly a necessity. Social justice will more plainly be only about fighting about insufficient resources instead of misapplication of plentiful resources.
There's no need to look to corporations to help people with daily rights and needs. According to the report "Alternatives to Privatisation: The Power of Participation":
The struggle includes vital issues such as dams. Shiva reported that the waters of the sacred River Ganges, "the lifeline of northern India and India's food security, are being handed over to Suez (global water corporation) to quench the thirst of Delhi's elite even as a hundred thousand people are being forcibly and violently removed from their homes in Tehri for the Tehri Dam." Terhi, capital of the ancient kingdom of Garhwal, is in the process of being submerged.
Dams go hand in hand with water privatization. At a recent World Water Forum, a report from International Rivers Network served as a briefing kit. From its section on dams, a famous case from the Pacific Northwest provided background on an infamous event that is expressed best by this scene as photographed here. Thousands of adult salmon were killed when Klamath River water was returned to farmers in fall 2002 by the federal government which knowingly violated environmental laws concerning the river and its species. The Klamath flows from Oregon through the northern extremity of California. Several Indian tribes lost their historic food supply, but not much fuss was made commensurate with the crime. (Photo courtesy of Defenders of Wildlife.)
An international network of citizens groups opposed global water privatization plans at the third World Water Forum in Japan in March 2003. Groups used the conference to advocate an alternate vision for resolving global water crisis. One of the tactics of the corporate agenda of the water interests is to call privatization something else: A policy writer for the World Water Council gave the meeting its script; while claiming to be independent, "the WWC supports the public-private partnership approach to water supply, which is a euphemism for privatization. Local accountability and control are often lost in privatization plans." - Blue Planet Project, which calls for the launch of an international campaign to keep water as part of the global commons.
What are we dealing with? One of the top three water corporations is Vivendi Environment which employs 295,000 people and "earned" $12 billion in 2002. The implications of these companies' activities, enforced by the World Bank's requirement of conversion of public systems to private as a condition for loans, include higher prices for water, cut-offs to customers who cannot pay, reduced water quality, and political corruption.
What did Mohandas Gandhi say about exploitation, centralization, and industrialization?
A cultural revolution and its nonviolent methods stands for equitable access to resources, non-exploitation of humanity, and the right of nature to exist with intrinsic value. To get there, non-cooperation with oppressive governments, corporations, and persons must be combined with compassion for prevailing ignorance and fear. You are just about ready to act in concert to do your part.
A local note with a strong message
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