Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 5 18:15:44 MST 2002

(For many on the left, the terms "ecological crisis" or "vulnerable
planet" are interpreted either as millenarian diversions from tasks
facing the working class or as a failure to embrace supposedly
orthodox Marxist concepts of the relationship between man and
nature--which boil down to a kind of leftish version of Atlas
Shrugged. In fact these terms not only are intrinsic to the kind of
analysis Marx was developing during a time of crisis around soil
fertility, they also relate to the class struggle unfolding at this

(Here are three items worth considering. First, a report from In
These Times about the role of water in the most recent conflicts
between Israel and Palestinian. Next, an excerpt from an article in
the latest New Yorker (Leasing the Rain) by William Finnegan about
the recent revolt in Cochabamba, Bolivia over the government's
decision to charge money for water. Finally, an excerpt from an
article in the latest Harpers (Eternal Winter) by Tom Bissell about
the disastrous consequences of cotton farming on Lake Aral, a vitally
important resource that cannot be replaced. The New Yorker and the
Harpers article are not online, but definitely worth tracking down if
you are interested in such matters, as all clear-thinking radicals
should be.)

In These Times, August 21, 2000

Water Wars

By Charmaine Seitz

A botched deal leaves Palestinians high and dry

As temperatures in the West Bank hover just above 100 degrees, water
is on everyone's mind. Three years of scant rain have dried out the
area and now a previously scarce resource has become paltry.

But reports of the drought's severity pale in comparison with
preliminary studies showing that crucial Palestinian water resources,
as accorded by Israeli-Palestinian agreements, are already
overexploited. The United States, in an overzealous effort to provide
Palestinians with water and improve the climate for peacemaking, may
be partly at fault. When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, all
control of local water resources was turned over to the Israeli
military administration. By the time Palestinians and Israel signed
an initial peace agreement in 1993, the Israeli water carrier was
pumping 80 percent of underground reserves to Israeli citizens in
Israel and the West Bank settlements. The rest of the water resources
were channeled to Palestinians, allotting them only one third of
Israeli per capita use.

During interim peace talks, the two sides agreed in 1995 that
Palestinians had the right to use a limited amount of water from the
eastern aquifer, the only underground aquifer lying completely inside
the West Bank. The other two West Bank aquifers were left until final
status talks, which were underway at Camp David as In These Times
went to press. At the time of the initial agreement, Israel said that
these other aquifers were already overexploited by its own pumping
and hence, not much use to Palestinians anyway.

Israeli engineers hypothesized that the eastern aquifer could produce
up to 21 billion gallons of water annually, in addition to the water
already being extracted. But that amount still would not bring the 2
million West Bankers up to World Health Organization standards for
healthy living.

Further, Palestinian engineers suspected that the Israeli estimates
of the aquifer's possibilities were too high, but their resources
were limited -- all real data remained classified by Israel
throughout the negotiations. The Palestinians eventually accepted the
data and agreed to Israel's terms.

Since then, Palestinians slowly have discovered that the eastern
aquifer has little to offer them, and may already be overused. Soon
after the agreement, Palestinian tests found that as much as 60
percent of the aquifer's water is contaminated by salty springs near
the Dead Sea. A July report by the Millennium Engineering Group, a
U.S. firm, estimates that only 25 percent of the water from the
eastern aquifer can be used safely. The Palestinian Water Authority
is now concerned that the aquifer could be in dire trouble and
further drilling as planned "might be disastrous."

But eager to encourage regional peace by aiding Palestinian
development, the United States has continued with its massive efforts
to expand Palestinian water production, despite indications as early
as 1998 that the eastern aquifer was already overexploited. Four
years ago, USAID pledged $ 211 million to the project over an 18-year
period. Another $ 52 million in loans is coming from the World Bank
and the European Investment Bank. So far, USAID has directed the
digging of four new production wells and this year will commence the
drilling of 11 more wells that can extract 13.2 billion gallons of
water a year. But if the aquifer can only yield as much as 5.2
billion gallons annually, according to the Millennium report, the
USAID project may be for naught.

>From the beginning, Palestinians and the planning organizations did
not have complete control over the choice of new well sites. "The
Israeli company Tahal conducted their own scientific research," says
Palestinian Water Authority project manager Ihab Barghothi. "They
pinpointed 11 locations where Palestinians can drill."

While Barghothi argues that the use of Tahal's data did not
jeopardize the well-selection process, other engineers disagree. All
Palestinian wells must go through an extensive Israeli approval
process by 22 Israeli ministries, including the Ministry of Defense.
Some well sites -- the best well sites, according to USAID's own
engineers -- were not accepted. Further, USAID and the planners were
so eager to get water flowing to Palestinians that "the assumption of
water availability was not tested," says Ayman Rabi, executive
director of the Palestinian Hydrology Group, a local think tank.
Millennium's testing of the four wells and their impact on the
aquifer will not commence until next year.

Meanwhile, Israeli settlements continue to extract an estimated 10.5
billion gallons from the eastern aquifer annually, as allotted in the
interim agreements. The Palestinian negotiators failed miserably in
their demands that Israel stop pumping water from the eastern
aquifer. One Millennium engineer says that the removal of the
settlements from the eastern basin would mean the end of Palestinian
water problems for some time, since even today's estimates of the
eastern aquifer are enough to sustain the Palestinians who live

Now it appears that the Palestinians may be left high and dry -- as
well as several million dollars in debt.


William Finnegan, Leasing the Rain:

Bolivia's rulers have always harbored a deep fear that the country's
Indian majority might one day rise up and kill them in their beds-or,
more realistically, trap them in their cities. In 1781, an Indian
rebel army, having killed all the Spaniards in a regional capital,
laid siege to La Paz for several months. The rebellion was ultimately
defeated by troops brought from Buenos Aires, but white Bolivia's
fear of a horizon suddenly filling with angry Indians ha never fully
dissipated, and on April S 2000, the Banzer government declared:
national state of siege. This meant martial law, and it allowed for
mass arrests The minister who announced the decree also said-in a
remark that Bechtel spokesman in London quickly picket up-that the
uprising in Cochabamba was being financed by nanotraficante.

The state of siege, along with the comments about drug traffickers,
backfired in Cochabamba. The small coca leaf farmers, known as
cocaleros, from the lowlands east of Cochabamba, had in deed joined
the protesters, but ordinary Bolivians draw a sharp distinction
between cocaleros and the wealthy, Army bribing, customs-bribing
narcotraficante. Many of the cocaleros are ex-miners Water is not
their issue-they are mot concerned about a coca-eradication program
sponsored by the United States-but their natural sympathy was with
the protesters. And the cholitas in the velvet dresses, and the
jubilados marching in their rumpled fedoras, and the water warriors
in their bandannas did not appreciate the suggestion that the were

The day the state of siege was declared, the main plaza in Cochabamba
was filled with people. The Army fire tear gas into the narrow
streets of the old city, where protesters had built barricade
Demonstrators blocked all roads into the city; the government cut off
power to local radio and television station Middle-class matrons took
wounded protesters into their homes and beau salons to nurse them,
and bowls of vinegar mixed with water and baking powder-useful for
soaking bandannas i protection from tear gas-appeared on side a
thousand respectable doorway.

Then, from behind a line of military police, a sharpshooter in
civilian cloth fired a rifle into a crowd of unarmed civilians. He
was caught on video by Bolivian television crew, and was later
identified as Robinson Iriarte de la Fuente, a Bolivian Army captain
who had been trained in the United Stat Victor Hugo Daza, the
seventeen-year old student, who was on his way home from a part-time
job, was, according eyewitnesses, among the crowd that Iriarte fired
into. He was hit in the face and died instantly. Dozens of other
people were treated for bullet wounds. By the time Daza had been
raised onto his bier and the police and the Army had been repeatedly
prevented from seizing his body, there was clearly no future for
Aguas del Tunari in Cochabamba.

The company's executives were told that the police could no longer
guarantee their safety, and fled Cochabamba for the lowland city of
Santa Cruz. They may have noted that, several weeks earlier, Mayor
Reyes Villa had left their side. When the people took to the streets
en masse, Bombon had assessed their mood and stepped away from Aguas
del Tunari so fast that it was as if he had never seen these
foreigners before. He was not the only one trying to distance
himself; when water privatization collapsed in Cochabamba, the World
Bank's representatives insisted that the fiasco had nothing to do
with them. The government informed Aguas del Tunari that, because the
company had "abandoned" its concession, its contract was revoked.
(The company argued that it had not left voluntarily but had been
pushed out.) The day after Victor Hugo Daza's funeral, Oscar Olivera
announced the consortium's departure to thousands of exhausted,
disbelieving demonstrators from the balcony of his union's offices
above the plaza.

The Coordinadora had swept the field so completely that a new
national water law was immediately passed- "written from below," as
the water-rights campaigners say. Banged together by parliamentarians
and water specialists from the Coordinadora who gathered in La Paz,
the new law gave legal recognition to usosycostumbres-traditional
communal practices-by protecting small independent water systems,
guaranteeing public consultation on rates, and giving social needs
priority over financial goals. This triumph seemed to the water
warriors too good to be true, and it was. Laws in Bolivia are
implemented-if, indeed, they are ever implemented-only after bylaws
have been attached and approved, and the government soon made it
clear that, in the case of the new water law, this process could take


Tom Bissell, Eternal Winter:

The story of the Aral Sea is a parable of twentieth-century
development and industrialization, a parody of Progress. It begins
with cotton, of which Uzbekistan is the world's second-largest
exporter, a strange accomplishment for a nation that is mostly
desert. For this thirsty, ecologically demanding crop, Uzbekistan can
thank the American Civil War, which cut off the cotton supply of a
powerful northern neighbor, czarist Russia, which in turn began to
search for a new, easily accessible agricultural base. In Central
Asia, it found that base. The river that runs along Uzbekistan's
southern border and feeds into the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya, known in
antiquity as the Oxus, was that "the water that serveth all that
country is drawn by ditches out of the River Oxus ... and in short
time all that land is like to be destroyed, and to become a
wilderness for want of water."

Soviet hunger for cotton, the strain of a quickly growing population,
and an intensifying network of irrigation made Jenkinson's prophecies
come true. Shortly after 1960 the Aral Sea began to disappear.
Moynaq, my ultimate destination, was once a prosperous seaside
fishing town of 40,000 inhabitants and home to a cannery that
produced 12 million tins offish a year by the late seventies, Moynaq
was no longer even near the shore. A place that for so long lived off
so little found itself rapidly losing everything. Fishermen, ferry
captains, canners and shipbuilders had to reinvent their lives;
within a planned economy that could not afford to admit that they
existed. The natural world paid an equally appalling price. Of the
171 species of animal life that have historically called the Aral Sea
home, only 38 now survive and the thick desert forests, once unique
to the Aral Sea's irreplaceable and distinctive ecosystem, have all
but vanished. The climate, too has suffered. In its unspoiled state,
the Aral Sea absorbed the solar equivalent of 7 billion ton of
conventional fuel, cooling the surrounding areas during the summers
and feeding the store heat back into the atmosphere during the
winters. Summer temperatures now regularly surpass 120 degrees, and
the commensurate harsh winters doom the irrigation-dependent crops
that the sea was drained to nourish.

With mounting rates of infant mortality, anemia, and tuberculosis,
the Karakalpaks began ii the 1980s to question publicly, in a country
that routinely crushed dissent, what was happening t their land and
their people. "When God loved us he gave us the Amu Darya," one poet
wrote "When he ceased to love us, he sent us Russia engineers."

In the late 1980s, just as glasnost was taking tenuous hold in Soviet
society, plans to save the sea were devised and revised; they
accumulated upon the shelves of the Soviet government and
well-meaning international agencies. None were carried out. In 1991
the Soviet Union collapsed. Yet the cotton harvest continued, because
the Uzbek economy depended on it. Each year the sea's condition grows
worse, and it now shrinks faster than cartographers can accurately
chart. Moynaq sits at least eighty miles from what is left of the
sea, and Karakalpakistan finds its revenues shrinking and its
monstrous medical-care expenditures crippling. It is one of the
sickest places on earth. By 2010, most experts estimate, the Aral Sea
will be completely gone.

Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 04/05/2002

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