Update: May 2011 – Hey, if you like my writing, you should check out my new website: Sustainable Diversity with fresh new and more in depth material!
You should read this entry if water is in anyway important to you. So you should probably move along if you are a rock or a star or the vacuum of space. But as for the rest of you perhaps you can take a moment and really appreciate the chemical compound that sustains all life on this planet. You know good old water – the stuff that makes up 60% – 80% of your body, the stuff that makes up 71% of the Earth’s surface, the stuff that make up the clouds, the stuff that covers our polar regions, the stuff that makes up any river, stream, lake, or ocean you’ve ever see. It’s on the grass in the morning and it pours at us from the sky, it’s the stuff that’s in your swimming pool or it’s the stuff that runs out of your sink, and even the stuff that carries your waste (the giant turd you just dropped) to some distant forgotteness. Water, indeed, deserves at least a little bit of your time – regardless of how busy you are.
You already make time for it daily. Everybody loves a delicious drink, and at the base of every drink is good, delicious, pure, unadulterated water. In fact it has become so integrated into our lives I am here to make the case that we not only stopped appreciating it, but if we don’t recognize the true, vast, and utter importance of water that we will no longer have it to appreciate in most places.
It sounds like a bold claim, but I’m certain everybody has heard in the news somewhere that in the near future, while most on this planet are still alive, that billions will be without clean potable water. It’s one of those stories you see on CNN at an airport after a long unsuccessful business trip, concerned about the mortgage, and suspecting your children are falling into the hands of an unfavorable crowd. You look up from your uncomfortable plastic seat at the droning talking head telling you that the UN suspects that 2/3 of the global population will be in water-stressed regions and you really let it sink to your gut for a second. You know what I mean – that gut feeling that says “What are we doing?! The world is undeniably doomed.” But of course the ever-familiar narcissistic vanity so typical of Americans returns and you are once again lost in your own troubles. But how often do you think, do you worry, that you might not beat the odds? How often do you let it cross your mind that in 2025 or 2030 that YOU might be living in that water-stressed region? And you thought you had problems now…
This is a good moment to take a break from the disconcerting news above and do a 1st grade lesson – maybe 2nd. We are going to determine the difference between a need and a want. I made “need” red because without a need we are going to have to stop – living. I made “want” green because wants are always something we want to go after. For example, if you need to take that dump I was talking about earlier, that just simply must occur, it’s not usually something you’re craving to do – it’s business – it’s life business. If you don’t poop your body will sooner, more likely than later, stop living. If you want something, for example the man at the airport wanted to pay his mortgage, there is no danger of him losing his life. While he may be homeless, certainly he can find shelter, albeit not nearly as luxurious as a house.
Of course losing a house is no small deal. Certainly that is a very strong want. In fact it’s so strong that man might do anything to keep that want. Some people have pushed as far as murder or genocide to achieve their wants. And therein lies the water problem – people putting wants in front of needs. Imagine replacing all of the red bulbs (or LEDs or whatever) at stoplights with green ones. The problem of putting green lights where the red lights should be is that we are under the impression that it is indeed okay to proceed when it is not okay to do so – when in fact your life will most likely be in danger.And that is exactly what replacing needs with your wants does.
This is the argument that could be made in the case of water. Water happens to be one of those very few things that have been placed on our needs list (I stopped using color because I figure you get the picture now). Yet we live in a very materialized want-based society, and surprisingly it is the driving force in the world today. Americans especially (but many other nations as wells) are notorious for creating things – not because they’re needed – but simply because they’re wanted – they’re desired. Yet this is not a problem that has started with America – it is as old as pollution.
A great example of this is that we can assume there is a beautiful, clean, bountiful, flowing river and there are two properties along the river 10 miles apart. We’ll pretend those properties are virtually identical and cost the same if you were interested in buying it. Both properties are completely self sufficient. There is no need for a dependency on others for water – such as the water company – to get your water for you because clean water is freely accessible on the river. However, due to the high demand for complex chemical products the property upstream was purchased so a factory had a place to dump its waste. A chemical factory dumping waste into the river completely depreciates all properties downstream, including the one 10 miles away. They are now unable to be independent for water, and because it is a need, they must turn toward another system to obtain it.
There was never and still isn’t a value put on the depreciation of our natural resources – specifically the ones we need. The voracious illegal logging across the planet, the dumping of chemicals and waste into our water and air that we breathe are all these things we allow to happen, free of charge. Please don’t confuse what I’m saying with things that can be replenished or renewed – things that humans do that are sustainable, or largely sustainable, are things I’m okay with. I’m okay with tree farms made specifically for logging that do not contribute to desertification. I’m not really okay with losing a forest that will never return to the Earth until humans are dead and their unquenchable desire for materials lost back to nature.
Slowly across the world pollution is taking a stronger and stronger grip. Certainly there have been gains – for example, in America air pollution has consistently decreased throughout the last few decades. But there are two problems with evidence like this. The first is that it would make sense for the increase of air quality for America with the decrease in industrial production due to outsourcing since the ’70s. But since the ’70s China’s coal use has doubled from just over 600 million metric tons to more than 1.2 billion metric tons. My reason for making this point is to prove that this is a global problem that connects and affects us all, and it is only getting worse. The second problem with the good-news evidence is that air pollution is not the only way to pollute. I’ve written previous entries on the pollution of plastic to the decimation of entire regions.
And again all of this pollution occurs because of “wants” in the most stripped definition of the word. They are wants, perhaps, with very good reasons behind them – perhaps it is even an idea used to save lives, but it comes at the cost of poisoning our natural right – water. For example, in the same book that dished out the facts on China’s coal consumption had this to say:
Indeed, China’s use of chemical fertilizers has more than quadrupled during the reform period, from 8,840,000 tons in 1978 to 42,538,000 tons in 2001. According to the World Bank, the poor quality of fertilizers and their inefficient application is contributing to significant nutrient runoff, which in turn is contributing to eutrophication in many of China’s most important lakes, in which the growth of dense algaie depletes the shallow water of oxygen.
This is just one example of how water gets polluted across the globe – including in America. China’s poor environmental practices are not the exception – but the rule. And they are being rewarded with a booming economy manufacturing materials for the West. They can circumvent the rules we, the West, put in place to have a clean and sustainable future thereby receiving the illusion of having the best of both worlds. But in reality America is still a high polluter due to our high desire for materials.
And this is the bombshell – this is the whole point: When we lose our free and natural sources for clean potable water, where do we turn? In the past for humans water was owned by Gaia, Mother Earth, God, Allah, Yahweh – in other words – somebody we don’t have to pay. But now we have a planet full of consistently filthier and filthier water and someone needs to clean that water (a process that was not needed nearly as strongly in the past) and, let’s bring the argument full through here, doesn’t that person who takes the time, energy, and money to clean that water deserve to be compensated?
Traditionally water has been a public domain. Perhaps you pay to get water pumped to your home but certainly you are not paying for the product being produced – it’s just water – it’s owned by no one. But now water is slowly becoming a product. More and more work is involved in getting water. Partially due to the pollution and partially due to the exponential growth rate in humans. Already the American midwest is experiencing water stress. So who is going to solve such big problems for us? In the West there is a major movement to privatize water. What this means in the most simplest of terms is that somebody will own the water – somebody we do have to pay. Not Gaia anymore. Can you imagine one of your needs to be owned by another human or group of humans? Imagine if they owned your right to poop, and you never had enough money to pay them, what is the ultimate result?
Fucking scary. That’s my answer to that question. When you privatize a need only bad things can happen. But don’t just take my word for it – Take it from the makers of an amazing book called Thirst: Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water. This book came out in addition to the movie Thirst. The authors do a much better job at explaining the different arguments for and against Private and Public water than I ever could:
One is concerned with practical issues of efficiency and economics, and the other is about principle. In the first case, both advocates and opponents of privatization point to successes and failures that allegedly prove their case. The debate over principle is more fundamental and involves questions of ethics and moral values.
I consider that a fair and powerful statement. When something becomes privatized the conversation MUST revolve around efficiency and economics while a public conversation has the ability to discuss the moral value of such efficiency or economics. It brings in to question the very foundation of what the terms public and private actually mean. If we privatize water, what IS public? On the topic of water should we REALLY just limit ourselves to narrowly defining it in terms of efficiency and economics? And whats to stop them from withholding water so long as they have military might behind them? Why not just let the rich and powerful drink and live easy letting others to fend for themselves and find their “own” water source to “purchase”? The authors continue:
The practical debate over who can provide water better focuses on the issues of transparency, efficiency, rates, and sustainability. In public systems, major decisions must go through a deliberative process that not only is conducted in public but also involves the public. Such transparency gives citizens’ groups and individuals access to the information they need to understand the workings of their utility and to follow the money. The same cannot be said for private water companies. Yes, wholly-owned water systems are regulated by state public utilities commissions and public-private partnerships are overseen by city councils, but getting information out of a giant corporation – even information required by contract – is often a difficult and contested process. In addition, it is nearly impossible to audit money flows between a local subsidiary and its parent multinational based abroad…. In 2006, two top managers at a Suez/United Water plant in New Jersey were indicted for covering up high radium levels in the drinking water. Prolonged exposure to radium is linked to to cancer, and communities served by the plant had a history of unusually high rates of childhood cancers.
And they continue on for no short length of time explaining all the risks that come with giving up our freedom to water. Now if you’ve read my entries before, you know I am an avid believer in gathering any information on the people behind an opinion to see if there are any tell-tale signs of corruption or greed. In the case of both plastic and biotechnology I found backers with ambiguous relationships in the government that would give them more profit and power to themselves and their relationships if their beliefs were followed. When I look up Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, the authors of this book, the only paper trail they have leads them back to PBS. PBS has proved through decades of nonpartisan work to have thoughtful and fair programs – providing as impartial a view as possible. If people kept water public Snitow and Kaufman would not profit – this is an excellent sign – this means while they promote the idea and profit off of promoting that idea, they do not profit off of people following the idea. This is rare to see in backers of privatization – they not only attempt to profit off of promoting the idea, they tend to profit off of people following the idea. For example:
Private Water Corporations
RWE/Thames – An energy behemoth German corporation known as RWE (because who wants to spell out the entire name? not me.) is the first example Snitow and Kaufman point out for why privatization is a bad idea. In the beginning of the 21st century RWE was hungrily devouring companies to put underneath its belt. One such company was known as Thames, which was the water company that supplied England with its water. In a report written by Public Citizen they found RWE/Thames had been England and Wales worst polluter for three years running.
This was of little matter to RWE who had reached number 78 on the Global Fortune 500 list raking in the largest profit of any water company in the entire world just barely beating the French water giants Suez (who was number 79) and Veolia (Page 1). A hop over the pond and RWE/Thames were ready to do business with America’s largest private water company – American Water Works – with 16 million customers in 29 states and 3 Canadian Provinces. Yes, this is the very same company with a terrible pollution record. In about 10 years time RWE had racked up $27 billion in debt and 2002 alone stocks dropped 40% (Page 2).
The implications of depending on a profit-driven entity that can not or does not make the expected profit are always negative. If a corporation does extremely well, such as Exxon-Mobil’s $40 billion profit, the savings do not get passed on to the consumer, as we well know. However, if a corporation does extremely poorly and we are dependent on it, such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, it is up to the public to bail them out at the expense of those who act responsibly.
Due to RWE not acting responsibly they had to resort to some dirty tactics for profit. Two-term mayor, Gary Podesto, of Stockton, California was happy to oblige by blocking information to the public on the privatization of their water system. Snitow and Kaufman paint Podesto as a man who had every intention of allowing RWE/Thames to take over their water system with minimal to no public decision on the topic. They accuse Podesto of not releasing details and refusing a public input on the matter. When public water supporters wanted to bring RWE/Thames in front of a referendum RWE/Thames and OMI (the American company they were working with) contributed $60,000 to the antireferendum campaign, which Podesto backed. Considering those who supported the referendum were a local grassroats group the decision seemed to have a heavy bias. I think it’s important to remember that this is about drinking water and sanitation which are needs. Should we allow the market to lay such a heavy bias on something that is so crucial to our existence?
Gary Podesto and RWE/Thames seemed to have no problem with it as “RWE/Thames took out full-page newspaper ads. Leaflets and mailers went out to homes across the city, and Podesto recorded automatic phone messages, warning voters against the ‘misinformation and sometimes downright lies’ being spread by the Coalition supporters [for public water]“(p. 40 of Snitow and Kaufman’s book). It is clear that RWE/Thames and Podesto were not interested in facts so much as winning, and winning is what they got. Snitow and Kaufman discuss the results explaining that while Podesto claimed only a 7% rate increase during the 20 year contract there was already an increase of 8.5% after only the first 3 years. “In addition, leakage doubled, maintenance backlogs skyrocketed, and staff turnover was constant, even on the management level, where there were two general managers and four operations managers in the first two years” (p. 46). And even in addition to that Snitow and Kaufman explain they cut odor-control chemicals to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, pumped chlorine into a waterway killing fish and getting the city fined $125,000, and spilled 8 million gallons of sewage into a river contaminating a swimming area.
So why was Gary Podesto so willing to blindly back such a bloated and pollution-prone corporation based a half a world away? He needed the money freed up to build a minor-league ballpark which was riddled with ineptitude. A report by a former city finance commissioner found the “city had inappropriately drained $36 million from water and sewer accounts to pay for the ballpark” (p. 46). Ultimately it was found that Stockton illegally implemented OMI and RWE/Thames as the water authority and returned it to municipal control. In other words the way a private company operated exclusively with a public official, in this case Gary Podesto, shows that water can be wasted and contaminated when driven by profit. The local interests of Stockton, California were moot to a desperate corporate giant desperate for profit. As for Gary Podesto, does he regret his terrible mismanagement of the water authority and his precious ballpark? Despite the Stockton City Council being found guilty of financial mismanagement Gary Podesto still backs them in hopes to regain political favor. Luckily as of 2006 he seems largely forgotten.
Also after buying American Water Works RWE/Thames continued to work deceptively. They’ve increased rates to over 100% in another California town of Felton, they manipulated neighboring district rate figures to attempt to trick the residents, they planted “community operatives” to “conduct reconnaissance,” in other words supplanting citizens who seemed impartial but were staking out the situation for the company. They used a public relations group known as the Moriah Group based in Tennessee to coerce citizens without the need of impartiality. In fact a grassroots website that quickly popped up supporting the privatization of water turned out to be done by a designer who also created the Moriah Group website… in Tenessee. It’s once again clear that winning overtook any informed decision on such a matter. They even went as far as to attempt to rewrite the state’s eminent-domain laws. All of this can be found in the 3rd Chapter of Thirst.
Suez – When Atlanta, Georgia’s public water and sewage system were too old and needed a major financial investment one would suspect the mayor of the city, Bill Campbell, to be concerned. However Mayor Campbell was happy to privatize the system selling it to Suez, a French company and United Water out of New Jersey at the curiously low price of $21.4 million a year over 20 years. Shortly after the sale is about the point where the Mystery Machine starts driving through Atlanta and the van breaks down. Because it was shortly after the sale to Suez and United Water that strange things started to occur. Only this wasn’t a scary ghost doing the strange things – it was Suez and Mayor Campbell.
Suez has a history of corruption. In exchange for privatizing the city of Grenoble the mayor accepted $3 million in bribes and was sentenced to four years in prison. Originally it was thought to be just a local bribe between local Suez officials and the mayor, but the CEO who finalized the deal was also a close adviser to Jacques Chirac, mayor of Paris, future President of France. However, it was only the mayor that was imprisoned.
So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Suez was already a partial owner of New Jersey based United Water and within a year was the 100% owner. Now the joint-work supposed to be between the two companies in Atlanta was now just Suez and again the desire for profit cut quality immensely. Service wait-time increased across the board and maintence workers cut staff from 479 to about 300 (p. 76 in Thirst). Advisories to boil water and water shortages increased and the quality of the water such as clarity and purity were lower.
How did Suez respond to their poor performance?
United Water subsidiary quickly began playing politics. It donated $10,900 to Ralph Campbell, Mayor Campbell’s brother, who was running for state auditor in North Carolina, a state in which United Water has no operations. The company also made contributions to Campbell’s campaign organization, even though Campbell – now in his second term – could not run for reelection and wasn’t a candidate for any other office. Although these contributions were not illegal, they reeked of impropriety and financial payoffs.
Meanwhile, United Water had a series of explanations for the growing cacophony of consumer complaints. Amazingly, the company said that it didn’t know about existing conditions when it signed the contract. (p. 78).
Additionally Mayor Campbell got an all-expense-paid trip for himself and a female companion in 1999 to visit the Suez corporate headquarters for 2 1/2 hours. However, all 5 days were paid for racking up a total cost of $12,900. In fact Campbell ended up being “indicted on 7 counts of racketeering, tax violations, and taking corrupt payments from various developers, political supporters, and contractors” (p. 83). When all was said and done Mayor Campbell was sentenced to 30 months in prison. As for Suez the new mayor was in shock at how poorly the system was run and was able to void the contract due to the terrible performance via an audit.
The audit also confirmed that United Water had not come close to delivering the $20 million in annual savings (a reduction from the $30 million tossed out by Mayor Campbell at various times). The amount saved was closer to $10 million a year, and no one thought those savings made up for the incompentent water service.
Corruption happens. I understand. But corruption occurs much easier when a lot of money is moved around behind closed doors instead of transparently in the open with public collusion. Water, being a need, must be as transparent as possible – just as it was when it was cleaned by Mother Nature. There were no ulterior motives of profit – only bounty.
Nestle – Another side of the privatization of water is bottled water:
In 2005, Americans spent well over $10 billion on bottled water, and sales are skyrocketing. The Beverage Marketing Corporation reports that bottled-water sales are increasing nearly 10 percent a year, growth almost unheard of in the food and beverage sector…. (p. 143)
In addition, if we get used to paying gas prices for a bottle of water, we might also get used to the idea that private corporations should provide tap water as well – at prices that guarantee a hefty profit….
From California to Maine to Florida, local and state governments are giving bottlers tax breaks and incentives, in effect paying them to appropriate the natural springs and aquifers we own in common as a people, all in return for the promise of a small number of jobs. Other companies receive similar subsidies for filling their bottles with inexpensive municipal water, slightly filtered or straight from the tap.
Consumers of bottled water pay roughly one thousand, sometimes even ten thousand, times more water for bottled water than for tap water. And what do we get? Study after study has concluded that bottled water is neither cleaner nor greener than tap water. The Natural Resources Defense Council discovered that a surprising number of the bottled waters they tested contained contaminants, pesticide residues, and heavy metals. The results shocked most people, who had not realized that bottled water is less regulated than tap water. While the Environmental Protection Agency enforces strict standards on municipal tap water, the Food and Drug Administration oversees bottled water and is concerned more with the accuracy of the label than with contents of the bottle. Water bottled and sold inside a single state isn’t covered by federal regulations at all but by state regulations, which vary from strict to virtually nonexistent. (p. 144)
I don’t mean to seem like I’m quoting the whole book, but this information is important for us to know to make informed decisions. Aside from bottled water being lower quality than tap water it also contributes largely to plastic waste. Thirst goes on to say that 88% of the 40 million bottles drank a day do not get recycled.
Nestle, however, felt they could cope with that fact. Being the world’s largest food company and based in Switzerland they knew people were going to want a drink with that. So Nestle created a division called Perrier and bought Poland Springs, Calistoga, Zephyrhills, Arrowhead, Ozarka, Deer Park, and Ice Mountain. Another quote:
Nestle Waters sells seventy-two brands in 160 countries. By 2005, its U.S. subsidiary was exploiting 150 water sources to feed over twenty bottling plants. The company’s $3.1 billion in 2005 sales accounted for almost one third of the U.S. bottled water market (p. 148).
Another big corporation and another story of corporate corruption with our precious need – water. In Newport and New Haven Wisconsin, after receiving a sour welcome from the town, people from Perrier contacted local landowners who had spring water. They promised to give them a good price for them if they agreed to keep the talks secret from everybody they knew – including family. Again, I understand business is business, but when it comes to a need such as our water supplies, this creepy backroom deal stuff is shameful. Nestle spends millions a year lobbying the government to continue to find sources for water.
Even though Nestle spent plenty of money on brochures 74% of New Haven and 81% of Newport wanted Perrier to leave with only a local official supporting them (which I’m sure he was not promised something by Perrier at all). Perrier would not leave the area claiming public support and 0 environmental impact without an environmental study and despite proof to the contrary with their test pump. After Perrier and local residents took it to court both sides had its victories and defeats. However, Perrier changed its name after the incident to Nestle Waters North America.
Additionally Nestle has been sniffing around the largest fresh water resource in the world – the Great Lakes, particularly Michigan:
They quickly discovered that a year earlier Nestle’s representatives met with the Republican governor, John Engler, and his staff won their support for an expansion of the company’s bottled-water business. “Support” doesn’t quite express the relationship however: Nestle had been offered almost $10 million in state and local tax abatements and other subsidies over ten years.
One of the governor’s senior aides apparently felt some pangs of guilt about the giveaway. In a “conscience-clearing” memo to his boss, the aide, Dennis Schornack, wrote, “Michigan won’t just be giving away the water; it will be paying a private and foreign-owned firm to take it away.” And in a later interview he went further: “The plentifulness and purity of the water that drew them [Nestle] to Michigan was going to draw them here anyway,” he said. “Tax abatements were unnecessary and unwise.” Schornack estimated Nestle could clear up to $1.8 million a day when the plant was up and running, a figure Nestle disupted (p. 172).
In both Wisconsin and Michigan Nestle was getting friendly with local leaders to circumvent public opinion. In a place called Sanctuary Springs Nestle received the right to lease the springs for pumping for 99 years. I mean let’s face it – politicians are known to take bribes – which, again, I know we cannot stop that completely. However, if all the dealings with water were done 100% transparently with public knowledge and interaction without multi-BILLION dollar corporations pushing legal boundaries as far as they go and sometimes breaking them then we might be able to come up with a clever, smart, sustainable, cost-effective system. Private corporations can sometimes pull that off, assuming the market and predictions go well, but they sometimes can not pull that off – for way many more reasons – being too bloated, internal greed, poor communication, bureaucratic hierarchies, poor profits 10,000 miles away, a lagging stock market… and my point is simply that we shouldn’t let the fate of our water supplies be determined in this fashion. It should seriously be illegal – owning water is sick, not smart. And the laws aren’t there yet – at least in Michigan. In 1998, when Ontario promised Asia 50 tankers of lake water a year there was an outrage and the company was forced to stop. Nestle claims that pumping for tiny bottles of water is not nearly going to have the same effect, but:
the original supertanker export proposal was to ship about 160 million gallons a year. That’s far less than the 240 million gallons a year Nestle could pump from that springs in Mecosta County alone, and the company was already developing new sources, including wells in the town of Evart, just fifty miles north of its Stanwood plant in Mecosta County (Michigan) (p. 186).
And oh yea, there’s this point too the book makes which is pretty important:
industry and industrial agriculture have been profligate in their use of water to produce food and other commodities. But Nestle isn’t making anything. It is merely exploiting a substance in the public domain, pasting on its brand name, shipping it out, and marking it up for sale by a factor of a hundred or more (p. 187).
And in court in November of 2003 a judge ruled against Nestle pumping in Mecosta County, Michigan and told them that they had 21 days to leave town by December 16, 2003. On December 15 “company lawyers reportedly held a private noontime meeting with top officials of Governor Granholm’s administration” (p. 191) who then supported the Nestle appeal and the pumping continued. I mean seriously – Nestle (and many other major corporations) are manipulating the system with an extremely disproportionate advantage leaving piles of money turds on the feet of anyone who can help them get what they want. “That’s just the market!” someone can ignorantly say, but this is water. W-A-T-E-R. We need it and exploiting it should not be the name of the game here – for Nestle and other private water companies, it is. But who would’ve thought that a major corporation would’ve ended up having secret meetings with public officials to get their way despite the lack of benefits to the local owners? Well after reading this entry you should’ve thought about it because Mayors and Governors seem to be the usurpers of democracy, local support, and humanity as a whole for being so lenient with such aggressive and manipulative corporate entitites. In 2006 at the 4th World Water Forum, which is dominated by private water companies, the authors of Thirst had this to say:
By the end of the conference, the Forum’s organizers, in an apparent fit of pique, blocked any reference in the final declaration to water as a human right because doing so would carry certain legal obligations and guarantees under international treaties. Instead, they substituted vague pabulum: water is “a guarantee of life for all of the world’s people (p. 207).
Now, water is a human right in my book. Just as if a government was withholding food from its citizens they would be denying their people of a basic human right, so would a private corporation holding water simply for a return profit. The wording they chose is so slippery it kind of makes me a little sick: water is a guarantee of life for all the world’s people. What that means, if you didn’t take time to break down the semantics, is that they are simply acknowledging the importance of water to people… but that people do not have a basic right to it. That is scary – that is Dr. Doom talk – we need to be smarter and pick up on these idiosyncrasies – otherwise the sentence might go as follows: “Water is a guarantee of life for all of the world’s people… which you will not be supplied with unless you pay us.” And in short that sentence is already implied, just not discussed, due to the whole “cruel” factor that might be played.
But seriously, how bad can it really get? Nestle has that cute chocolate rabbit – there is no way they’re going to be willing to deprive the world of the most efficient water conservation techniques and the cost of profit, is there? If only we can look into a world where privatized water industry got everything they wanted – maybe it’s just us who want transparency and lack of bribes that ARE really the source of trouble – if only there was a place where all water was privatized – what would that world be like?
Bechtel – Being the largest engineering company in the United States Bechtel was happy to lend a helping hand to Bolivia when the World Bank demanded that they privatize a city’s entire water system – including rainwater (yes RAINWATER). Cochabamba, the third largest city in Bolivia, began having to pay 1/4 of their income for water having to hold back on buying medicine, allowing their children to go to school, and having the elderly beg for money. Shortly thereafter riots began and the Bolivian government chose to back Bechtel – not its people. Of course many were injured and killed, including children. Eventually Cochabamba got their water back. So is this worth the right for someone to make a profit?
It reminds me of a quote I have from Catch-22 on my About Page where Milo Minderbinder is wondering how he can make a profit off of something nobody wants (for him it was Egyptian cotton, for us it’ll be water you must pay for), Yossarian says he should bribe the government into buying into it:
“Bribe it!” Milo was outraged and almost lost his balance and broke his neck again. “Shame on you!” he scolded severely, breathing virtuous fire down and upward into his rusty mustache through his billowing nostrils and prim lips. “Bribery is against the law, and you know it. But it’s not against the law to make a profit, is it? So it can’t be against the law for me to bribe someone in order to make a fair profit, can it? No, of course not!” He fell in to brooding again, with a meek, almost pitiable distress. “But how will I know who to bribe?”
“Oh don’t you worry about that,” Yossarian comforted him with a toneless snicker as the engines of the jeeps and ambulance fractured the drowsy silence and the vehicles in the rear began driving away backward. “You make the bribe big enough and they’ll find you. Just make sure you do everything right out in the open. Let everyone know exactly what you want and how much you’re willing to pay for it. The first time you act guilty or ashamed, you might get into trouble.”
And isn’t that the case? Wasn’t it the case with RWE/Thames, Suez, and Nestle? Bechtel even paid a record low for the water business of Cochabamba because the government was against the wall. When people rallied against the idea of paying for a human right the giant companies just dropped money in all the right places to attempt to keep it working for them. Some succeeded, others failed, but with water crises quickly coming up we know they will not stop and just like the hole in the dike, it will get bigger and more powerful to stop – the more we allow private companies to invade and control our natural resource made for all life – the more dependent we become on others, and not ourselves, and the less we take care of ourselves, the more infantile we deserve to be treated. And these companies are not the only players in the game – Pepsi and Coca-Cola are right behind Nestle selling their bottled water brands of Aquafina and Dasani respectively. Plastic is piling up and the cost of water in 16-ounce forms is costing us over 100% of what it’d cost from our usually cleaner tap-water supply.
Change your beliefs, abstain from buying bottled water (fill one up on your own), and keep your local water supply (wherever it may be) public and transparent. Of course, as usual, despite being a 6,000 word entry, I still am only touching the tip of the iceberg. For way more information on this topic I suggest the following. Comment please!
Scarcity is the soul of profit – if profit can be said to have a soul – Thirst (p. 3)