Blue Gold, the global water crisis
Source Dave Anderson
Date 01/08/28/01:09

> Report Summary
> By Maude Barlow
> Chair, IFG Committee on the Globalization of Water
> National Chair, Council of Canadians
> June 1999
> A Special Report
> Produced and Published by
> the International Forum on Globalization (IFG)
> "The wars of the next century will be about water."
> The World Bank
> We'd like to believe there's an infinite supply of
> fresh 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 km 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 drinking water. If current trends persist, by
> 2025 the demand for fresh water is expected to rise
> by 56 percent more than is currently available.
> As the water crisis intensifies, governments around
> the world - under pressure from multinational
> corporations - are advocating a radical solution:
> the commodification and mass transport of water.
> Proponents of commodification, and subsequent
> privatization, say that such a system is the only
> way to distribute water to the world's thirsty. But,
> in fact, experience shows that selling water on the
> open market does not address the needs of poor,
> thirsty people. On the contrary, privatized water is
> delivered to those who can pay for it, such as
> wealthy cities and individuals and water intensive
> industries such as agriculture and high-tech. As one
> resident of the high desert in New Mexico observed
> after his community's water was diverted for use by
> the high-tech industry: "Water flows uphill to
> money."
> 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, Malaysia, 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 severely 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
> for water wars in the Middle East, where water
> resources are severely limited..
> 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 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 treated 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 the 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 US$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 labor. The
> company brochure entices investors "to harvest the
> accelerating 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.
> Social Inequity
> In India, some households pay a staggering 25
> percent of their income on water.
> Poor residents of Lima, Peru, pay private vendors as
> much as $3 for a 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.
> Disease
> More than five million people, most of them
> children, die every year from illnesses caused by
> drinking poor-quality water.
> Food Insecurity
> 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 of the region.
> Environmental Destruction
> 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 38,000 today.
> In the U.S., only 2 percent of the country's rivers
> and wetlands remain free-flowing and undeveloped; as
> a result, the country has lost more than half of its
> wetlands.
> Eighty percent of China's major rivers are so
> degraded they no longer support fish.
> 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
> damaged 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 commodification.
> The Blue Gold report addresses the following issues:
> 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 we share water in water-rich
> countries with those in water-poor countries? Who is
> the custodian for nature's lifeblood? How do
> ordinary citizens become involved in this process?
> 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."
> * * *
> The next World Water Forum is being held in The
> Hague in March 2000. Chaired by World Bank Vice
> President Ismail Serageldin, this meeting is part of
> the continuing activities of the World Water
> Council, formed by governments, international
> agencies, and private sector in 1997 after the first
> World Water Forum held in Marrakesh, Morocco.
> The World Water Council has formed various
> partnerships with private corporations including the
> Global Water Partnership and Business Partners for
> Development. The web sites and reports of these
> organizations make it clear that some of the largest
> water privateers are taking the lead in developing
> water policies of international organizations and
> governments.
> Instead of allowing this vital resource to become a
> commodity sold to the highest bidder, this report
> advocates 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 efforts 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 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 protect water
> 10) Economic globalization policies are not water
> sustainable
> Maude Barlow
> The Council of Canadians, Canada
> A well known public speaker, organizer and media
> commentator, Maude Barlow ***.She is the national
> volunteer chairperson of the Council of Canadians
> and the
> founding co-chair of Action Canada Network.
> Previously a senior advisor to Pierre Trudeau during
> his administration, she was also one of Canada's
> leading voices in the battle against the U.S.-Canada
> Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, as well as a central
> figure in the international citizens' movement that
> brought to a halt negotiations on the Multilateral
> Agreement on Investments (MAI) at the Organization
> for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
> Barlow has been recognized with the Ontario
> Teacher's Federation's highest award for her
> contribution to education and equality in schools.
> She is a best-selling author whose works include The
> MAI and the Threat to American Freedom, Class
> Warfare: The Assault on Canada's Schools with
> Heather-Jane Robertson, Parcel of Rogues, Take Back
> the Nation with Bruce Campbell, and Straight Through
> the Heart, a critical examination of the Liberal
> government's role in developing and dismantling
> Canada's social programs. Her most recent
> publication, The Fight of My Life, is an
> autobiography of her years of public service. Barlow
> holds an honorary doctorate from Memorial
> University.
> Publications Order Form
> IFG Publications
> IFG Home Page

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