lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Aug 30 07:11:06 MDT 1999
..... the future of one of the earth's most vital resources is being
determined by those who profit from its overuse and abuse.
Blue Gold: The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World's
"The wars of the next century will be about water." Ismail Serageldin,
vice-president of the World Bank We'd like to believe there's an infinite
supply of water on the planet. But the assumption is tragically false.
Available fresh water amounts to less than one-half of one percent of all
the water on Earth. The rest is sea water, or is frozen in the polar ice.
Fresh water is renewable only by rainfall, at the rate of 40-50,000 cubic
kilometers per year. Global consumption of water is doubling every 20
years, more than twice the rate of human population growth. According to
the United Nations, more than one billion people on earth already lack
access to fresh water. If current trends persist, by 2025 the demand for
fresh water is expected to by 56 percent more than is currently available.
The push to commodify water comes at a time when the social, political and
economic impacts of water scarcity are rapidly becoming a destabilizing
force, with water-related conflicts springing up around the globe. For
example, Maylasia, which supplies about half of Singapore's water,
threatened to cut off that supply in 1997 after Singapore criticized its
government policies. In Africa, relations between Botswana and Namibia have
been severly strained by Namibian plans to construct a pipeline to divert
water from the shared Okavango River to eastern Namibia. Much has been
written about the potential water wars in the Middle East, where water
resources are severly limited. The late King Hussein of Jordan once said
the only thing he would go to war with Israel over was water because Israel
controls Jordan's water supply.
Meanwhile, the future of one of the earth's most vital resources is being
determined by those who profit from its overuse and abuse. At the 1998
annual World Economic Development Congress, which follows the annual
International Monetary Fund/World Bank meeting, corporations and financial
institutions met with government representatives from more than 84
countries to attend panels on such subjects as "Overcoming Obstacles to
Water Investment" and " Navigating Transparency and Banking Regulation in
Emerging Capital Markets." The agenda was clear: water should be traded
like any other tradable good, with its use determined by market principles.
At the same time, governments are signing away their control over domestic
water supplies by participating in trade treaties such as North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and institutions such as the World Trade
Organization (WTO). These agreements effectively give transnational
corporations the unprecedented right to the water of signatory countries.
Already, corporations have started to sue governments in order to gain
access to domestic water sources. For example, Sun Belt, a California
company, is suing the government of Canada under NAFTA because British
Columbia (B.C.) banned water exports several years ago. The company claims
that B.C.'s law violates several NAFTA-based investor rights and therefore
is claiming $220 million in compensation for lost profits.
With the protection of these international trade agreements, companies are
setting their sights on the mass transport of bulk water by diversion and
by super-tanker. Several companies are developing technology whereby large
quantities of fresh water would be loaded into huge sealed bags and towed
across the ocean for sale.
The U.S. Global Water Corporation, a Canadian company, is one of those
seeking to be a major player in the water trade. It has signed an agreement
with Sitka, Alaska, to export 18 billion gallons per year of glacier water
to China where it will be bottled in one of that country's "free trade"
zones to take advantage of cheap labour. The The company brochure entices
investors "to harvest the accelerating opportunity... as traditional
sources of water around the world become progressively depleted and degraded."
Selling water to the highest bidder will only exacerbate the worst impacts
of the world water crisis.
* In India, some households spend a staggering 25 percent of their incomes
* Poor residents in Lima, Peru, pay private vendors as much as $3 per cubic
meter for buckets of often-contaminated water while the more affluent pay
30 cents per cubic meter for treated municipal tap water.
* In the maquiladora zones of Mexico, water is so scarce that babies and
children drink Coca-Cola and Pepsi instead.
* More than five million people, most of them children, die every year from
illnesses caused by drinking poor quality water. Food Security:
* China is facing the likelihood of severe grain shortages because of water
depletion and the current shift of limited water resources from agriculture
to industry and cities. The resulting demand for grain in China could
exceed the world's available exportable supply.
* During a drought crisis in northern Mexico in 1995, the government cut
water supplies to local farmers while ensuring emergency supplies to the
mostly foreign- controlled industries in the region.
* Around the world, the answer to the increase in water demand has been to
build more environmentally destructive dams and divert more rivers. The
number of large dams worldwide has climbed from just over 5,000 in 1950 to
* In the U.S., only 2 percent of the country's rivers and streams remain
free-flowing and undeveloped; the continental U.S. has lost more half of
* Eighty percent of China's major rivers are so degraded they no longer
* In the U.S., the epicenter of freshwater diversity in the world, 37
percent of freshwater fish are at risk of extinction, 50 percent of
crayfish and 40 percent of amphibians are imperiled, and 67 percent of
freshwater mussels are extinct or vulnerable to extinction.
* In the Great Lakes system, the Nature Conservancy has identified 100
species and 31 ecological communities at risk.
A number of key research and environmental organizations such as Worldwatch
Institute, World Resources Institute and the United Nations Environment
Program have been sounding the alarm for well over a decade: If water usage
continues to increase at current rates, the results will be devastating for
the earth and its inhabitants. Groups such as the International Rivers
Network, Greenpeace, Clean Waters Network, Sierra Club and Friends of the
Earth International, along with thousands of community groups around the
world, are fighting the construction of new dams, reclaiming rivers and
wetlands, confronting industry over contamination of water systems, and
protecting whales and other aquatic species from hunting and overfishing.
In a number of countries, experts have come up with some exciting and
creative solutions to these problems. This work is crucial, yet such
efforts need to be coordinated and understood in the broader context of
economic globalization and its role in promoting privatization and
Who owns water? Should anyone? Should it be privatized?
What rights do transnational corporations have to buy water systems? Should
it be traded as a commodity in the open market? What laws do we need to
protect water? What is the role of government? How do those in water- rich
countries share with those in water-poor countries? Who is the custodian
for nature's lifeblood? How do ordinary citizens become involved in the
process? The analysis and the recommendations in this report are based on
the principle that water is part of the earth's heritage and must be
preserved in the public domain for all time and protected by strong local,
national and international laws. At stake is the whole notion of the
"commons," the idea that through our public institutions we recognize a
shared human and natural heritage to be preserved for future generations.
Local communities must be the watchdogs of our waterways and must establish
principles that oversee the use of this precious resource.
As Georg Wurmitzer, mayor of the small town of Simitz, in the Austrian
Alps, states: "It is a sacred duty to help someone who is suffering from
thirst. However, it is a sin to transfer water just so that people can
flush their toilets and wash their cars in dry areas... It makes no sense
and is ecological and economic madness." Instead of allowing this vital
resource to become a commodity sold to the highest bidder, we believe that
access to clean water for basic needs is a fundamental human right. Each
generation must ensure that the abundance and quality of water is not
diminished as a result of its activities. Greater effort must be made to
restore the health of aquatic ecosystems that have already been degraded as
well as to protect others from harm. We believe that the following ten
principles will help to protect water:
1. Water belongs to the earth and all its species.
2. Water should be left where it is wherever possible.
3. Water must be conserved for all time.
4. Polluted water must be reclaimed.
5. Water is best protected in natural watersheds.
6. Water is a public trust to be guarded at all levels of government.
7. An adequate supply of clean water is a basic human right.
8. The best advocates for water are local communities and citizens.
9. The public must participate as an equal partner with government to
10. Economic globalization policies are not water sustainable.
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