Friday, April 24, 2009

Water- the new Blue Gold

As part of my Earth Week celebration I decided to get the book Blue Gold:The Battle against Corporate Theft of the World's Water. The book is written by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke. Ms. Barlow is founder and Chair of The Council of Canadians. She is also co-founder of the Blue Planet Project. As well she is also the Senior Advisor on Water Issues to the President of the General Assembly of The United Nations. From that brief CV you can believe she has the knowledge to write a book about water, water conservation and how the multi-national corporations are seeing water as the New Oil.

Indeed that is what is happening right now, many corporations are attempting to buy up water rights and are attempting to force and that is the right word 'force' national governments privatize municipal water services. As is the case of any book dealing with multi-nationals, there is the usual suspects such as the World Bank World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Of the two, the former, the World Bank is the most noxious. It led the march to privatize social services such as water, sewer, schools and things like that. Often it orders governments to privatize services and then demands that the loans given are not to be use to subsidize the costs for the poorest. Then the World Bank ensures the multi-nationals have the funds to buy up the services. So its involved in boths of the theft.

The water market is growing; as pressure is put on governments, either through the World Bank or the reality that municipal government cannot keep up with the demands of servicing or repairing the infrastructure; it may be the easiest thing to do, sell the services to some huge company who will promise wonderful services, or at the very least, grafts, payola and bribes to the officials.

One of the problems faced, as stated in the book, there was pressure to declare water a 'need' rather then a 'right'. While this may sound like a bit of semantics, Ms Barlow states the problem is this; if it is a need, then water becomes a commodity to be bought and sold to those who have the resources. As a need control then passes to whoever can buy it. If it is a right, then it belongs to all people and people are the ones who can and will control it.

What is the problem with water? Ms Barlow states that water is finite, there is a limited supply of it. While this finite supply is very large there is the problem that the distribution is usually not very good. A great deal of water is unsuitable for human consumption, such as the oceans or is located frozen in water. She gives the statistics, but I'm not going to bore you with them all. It is a fascinating read. Of the water that is available, it's in a few places and not necessary where the greatest demand is. On top of it, industrialization in all forms is polluting fresh water and this is making it less available. Couple with with the growth of the bottled water industry, greater demand is being put on water. Add to this the damming of rivers, global warming and population demands has made the finite truly finite.

There is a call to have water declared a Human Right and make it available to all and not simply to the richest multi-nationals. Water is the right of all who inhabit the planet. Maude Barlow has also been on of the creators of the TREATY INITIATIVE TO SHARE AND PROTECT THE GLOBAL WATER COMMONS. This document declares:
That the intrinsic value of the Earth’s fresh water precedes its utility and commercial value, and therefore must be respected and safeguarded by all political, commercial and social institutions, That the Earth’s fresh water belongs to the earth and all species and therefore, must not be treated as a private commodity to be bought, sold and traded for profit, That the global fresh water supply is a shared legacy, a public trust and a fundamental human right and, therefore, a collective responsibility

In another document, it is declared:
No one has the right to appropriate water for personal profit while others arebeing denied access because of an inability to pay for it. Water should not be privatized, traded for profit, stored for future sale, or exported for commercial purposes. Governments must declare their domestic water Commons a public
good and take responsibility for delivering clean, safe water as a public service
to all their citizens. All decisions regarding the water Commons must be made
transparently and with democratic oversight. This is not to say there is no place
for the private sector in alleviating the global water crisis, as long as corporations are not running the water services directly.

While some may think of this as the typical anti-corporate slant and screed from Maude Barlow, she makes a great deal of sense. We need water. Right now water is being mis-used to the advantage of a minority of people, the owners and shareholders of major corporations. Part of this mis-use is the over-use of water in the petro-chemical industry and industry as a whole. Control of water by multi-nationals has not led to cleaner water or even conservation of water; this is especially true as water is used in the manufacturing process.

But there is change beginning to happen; governments are beginning to decommission dams, and allowing rivers to be restored. In other cases, municipalities are standing up against the privatization of water and sewer services and are taking them back. People are standing up and demanding their goverments be accountable to them and not multi-nationals. Where bribery has been the engine of change, arrests and imprisonment has happened.

People are standing up and demanding water be a human right. In other places people are destroying water metres and re-connecting homes to the water main, when they are cut off because they couldn't afford the bills.

Locally we can sign the Endorsement Statement to make Water a Human Right. Write to our governments and reminding them water is a public not private service.

She mentions the Indigenous Declaration of Water, how the Indigenous People are demanding they play a part in securing fresh water. It's worth reading:
We, the Indigenous Peoples from all parts of the world assembled here, reaffirm our relationship to Mother Earth and responsibility to future generations to raise our voices in solidarity to speak for the protection of water. We were placed in a sacred manner on this earth, each in our own sacred and traditional lands and territories to care for all of creation and to care for water. 1

2. We recognize, honor and respect water as sacred and sustains all life. Our traditional knowledge, laws and ways of life teach us to be responsible in caring for this sacred gift that connects all life.

3. Our relationship with our lands, territories and water is the fundamental physical cultural and spiritual basis for our existence. This relationship to our Mother Earth requires us to conserve our freshwaters and oceans for the survival of present and future generations. We assert our role as caretakers with rights and responsibilities to defend and ensure the protection, availability and purity of water. We stand united to follow and implement our knowledge and traditional laws and exercise our right of self-determination to preserve water, and to preserve life.

A book worth reading. A cause worth defending.

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