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The Business of Water: Privatizing An Essential Resource

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The Business of Water: Privatizing An Essential Resource
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Water WarsIn her 2002 book titled, "Water Wars," noted author, social activist, and ecologist Vandana Shiva called privatizing water:

  • ecological terrorism;
  • a global water crisis;
  • along with overuse, waste and pollution, it can cause "the most pervasive, most severe, and most invisible dimension of the ecological devastation of the earth;"
  • the road to "an ecological crisis with commercial causes but no market solutions; (they) destroy the earth and aggravate inequality; the solution to an ecological crisis is ecological, and the solution for injustice is democracy;" and
  • water rights are natural and "usufructuary....water can be used but not owned;" it belongs to everyone as part of the commons as an essential "basis of all life....under customary laws, the right to water has been accepted as a natural, social fact."

Shiva lists nine water democracy principles:

(1) it's nature's gift;

(2) it's essential to life;

(3) "life is interconnected through water;"

(4) it must be free "for sustenance needs;"

(5) it's limited and exhaustible;

(6) it must be conserved;

(7) it's a commons;

(8) "no one has a right to overuse, abuse, waste, pollute," or own it; it belongs to everyone; it can't be treated as a commodity; and

(9) there's no substitute.

Corporate profiteers have other ideas and, since 1997, have met triennially at the World Water Forum (WWF) to discuss privatizing water globally in coordination with the World Water Council (WWC). It's dominated by two of the world's largest water companies, Suez and Veolia, as well as the World Bank, other financial interests, UN bodies, and powerful interest groups representing business and world nations.

WWC's agenda is profits through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) wanting to privatize global water resources, sell them to the highest bidder, promote destructive dam and water diversion projects, extort high prices, and make an element of life available only to those who can afford it.

Their scheme involves controlling city/municipal/community distribution as well as stealing public water, bottling it, selling it at exorbitant prices, and claiming it's pure when, in fact, it's no safer than tap water.

In fact, a 1990s four year National Resources Defense Council study on the bottled water industry found "major gaps in bottled water regulation and conclude(d) that bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water." Using independent labs, it tested over 1,000 bottles of 103 brands and found:

  • one-third contained "significant contamination (i.e. levels of chemical or bacterial contaminants exceeding those allowed under a state or industry standard or guideline);" and
  • contaminants found in some but not all samples tested included excessive coliform bacteria, synthetic organic compounds (such as toluene, xylene, styrene and others), flouride, phthalate, arsenic, nitrates, and other inorganic contaminants.

It's no wonder, given the weakness of federal standards and little regulatory oversight.

People Advocates

The People's Water Forum (WWF) advocates for global water justice, calling it a "basic element of all life (and) a fundamental and inalienable human right." It rejects all forms of privatization, demanding water be "public, social, cooperative, participatory, equitable, and not for profit." It calls for "the democratic and sustainable management of ecosystems and the preservation of the water cycle through the protection and proper management of watersheds and environment." It says commodifying water harms the world's poor, and wants privatized utilities reclaimed for equitable public use.

Some Key Water Facts

Available in lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers, freshwater is scarce, comprising only 0.008% of the global total. It's unevenly distributed. Around 90% of what's drinkable is groundwater. About 70% is locked in ice caps, less than 1% readily available. The Great Lakes contain about 84% of North America's surface fresh water and 21% of the world's supply. About 13% is in Brazil. Other water rich countries include Canada, Russia, China, Indonesia and Colombia.

One-third of the world's population lives in "water-stressed" countries. Over two-thirds have no access to clean water, and an estimated 25,000 people die daily as a result. The World Health Organization (WHO) attributes contaminated water to 80% of all sickness and disease worldwide. In the last decade alone, the number of children killed by avoidable diarrhea illnesses exceeded the death toll from all armed conflicts since WW II. Every eight seconds, a child dies from contaminated water.

More freshwater is stored in the ground than in liquid form on the surface. Scientists have discovered a vast water reservoir beneath East Asia, at least the equivalent of the Arctic Ocean, so far untapped. Up to now, no shortages exist, but overuse, pollution, and waste will create them. Water is limited, exhaustible when poorly managed, and there's no substitute.

Irrigation consumes the most because agribusiness uses ten times what comparable ecological farming needs. Much of what's available is lost through pollution, overuse, and waste. Conservation and keeping it out of corporate hands is vital to human health, well-being, and sustainability.

One Report Highlights Privatization Dangers

Food & Water Watch advocates for economic and environmental sustainability through research, the media, public outreach and education, including lobbying for safe, wholesome food as well as public control of groundwater, oceans, lakes and rivers.

In February 2009, it published a report titled, "Money Down the Drain: How Private Control of Water Wastes Public Resources." It covers corporate efforts to convince cash-starved communities to privatize their water and wastewater systems, saying it's how to raise vital revenue, be more efficient, and the best way to upgrade facilities at low cost. The facts prove otherwise:

  • because of financing costs, taxes, high executive pay, expected profits, and numerous other factors, privatization is expensive and irresponsible;
  • private utilities charge up to 80% more for water and 100% more for sewer service;
  • costs are contained by downsizing workforces, destroying unions, relying on cheap labor, using shoddy construction materials, deferring maintenance, and backlogging service requests to focus all efforts on profits.

Cities belatedly learn that public control delivers better, cheaper, faster, more reliable service and happier customers. Food & Water Watch concluded that:

Privatization is not a sustainable model or a way to rejuvenate community water systems. "From high costs and inefficiency to unaccountable and irresponsible operators, a deluge of problems has swamped communities that turned to the private sector. Corporations prioritize earnings over quality, and stockholders over consumers. They seek good returns by cutting corners, neglecting maintenance and hiking rates."

Privatization is the problem, not the solution to protect our valuable water resources and distribute them equitably to everyone at a reasonable cost. "Public money for public utilities is the best way....to ensure clean, safe and affordable water for generations to come." It also preserves higher paying jobs and the right of workers to organize. Irresponsible profiteers operate otherwise.

Social activist Maude Barlow chairs the Council of Canadians, Canada's largest citizens organization advocating for numerous economic and social issues, including Canadian independence, progressive policies, energy security, and publicly controlled clean water.

She explains that future peace or peril depends on whether water is commodified or a public good, saying dwindling freshwater supplies, inequitable access, and corporate control "have created a life-or-death situation across the planet."

Schemes to shift water from one ecosystem to another for profit are a human rights and environmental nightmare. Private solutions are the problem, not the solution to equitable distribution, conservation, and sustainability.

However, American and Canadian governments have other ideas, having "decided that water is not a public good but a private resource that must be secured by whatever means" to control who gets it, at what price, and who doesn't. These countries lead efforts to block international attempts to recognize water as a human right.

In a July 2007 article titled, "The Militarization and Annexation of North America," this writer discussed one way - by integrating America, Canada and Mexico through the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), or North American Union.

Launched in March 2005, it's for greater US, Canadian and Mexican economic, political, social, and security integration with secretive working groups devising binding agreements legislatures can't change.

If achieved, it will militarily enforce a corporate coup d'etat against the sovereignty of three nations, their people and legislative bodies, the idea being a US-controlled North America with no trade or capital flow barriers. Especially key will be America's unlimited access to Canadian and Mexican resources, mainly oil from both countries and Canadian water.

Efforts paused during the Bush to Obama transition, but deep integration plans remain, the grand goal being a single global marketplace under a one world government and much more, including ending social justice and democratic rule, a very ugly future if achieved.

Efforts to Preserve Water as a Right

Organizations like the Council of Canadians, the Blue Planet Project (founded by Barlow), Food & Water Watch and others are fighting back to preserve water as a right, keep it out of corporate hands, and stop countries like Canada from agreeing to bulk exports to America when preserving enough for domestic needs is vital. Although Canada is water rich, it must conserve its surplus quantities, given its own growing needs. But plans are being made to divert them.



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