The continued commodification and privatization of public water resources ensures that they will be in private hands in the future, and that the process of making decisions regarding them will be based on their profitability. The humanitarian crisis that is already unfolding in many countries due to lack of water will not weigh in as heavily as the bottom line. This is how corporations work.
The companies that profit from water know that scarcity always translates into higher prices, and the water paradigm is one crisis that will be exceedingly profitable during the 21st century and beyond.
If water is entirely privatized and commodified, whoever owns the water will have the power to commit genocide, to choose who gets to have access to drinkable water in the very near future. Things like water terrorism and water wars, and the increasingly frequent comparison of water to oil, sound like the stuff of science fiction. It is understood that these are some of the concerns that we leave as legacy to the future generations, but we already live in a world where Water Wars have taken place.
In the year 2000, the entire city of Cochabamba came to a halt as people fought and died on the streets defending their water resources. The previous Bolivian regime, with strong neoliberal sympathies, had sold ALL of the water resources in the country to an American company from San Francisco, Bechtel.
It was made illegal to gather even rain water. In a matter of months, the price of public water skyrocketed and poor and indigenous Bolivians began to take their children out of school in order to purchase water. Retired citizens had to return to work to buy water. Four months of riots ensued.
Corporate media in the US was too embarassed to cover the Bolivia case, as it eloquently described the most inhumane, greedy and dangerous face of American capitalism. Most Americans have never, to this day, heard of the Water Wars in Bolivia.
Meanwhile, bottled water has become big business in the US and made several corporations take notice of the huge profits that await them. The city of Los Angeles draws its water from hundreds of miles away, and according to the film-critique Last Call at the Oasis: Why Time Is Running Out to Save Our Drinking Water, the city of Las Vegas is already beginning to deal with serious problems related to its water resources.
Another documentary on water which diluscidates much of what we can expect is Flow, which specifically points fingers at companies such as Nestle, Vivendi, Thames, Suez, Coca Cola and Pepsi and provides us with a narrative of how these companies have slowly taken over public springs and water sources, how several communities have complained but been unable to stop the stealing of their resources by these private entities that takes place daily under their noses, and how business interests override public concerns whenever communities present a legal challenge against theft of water by corporations.
Perhaps the main culprit is the blind consumer. We have no right to criticize a powerful, wealthy industry whose interests are contrary to our humanitarian concerns when we are the ones who make it powerful and wealthy by voting with our money every day for the kind of planet we wish to live in. And there is plenty of information available today all over the internet on how phony bottled water products are. According to this ehow article,
… about 24 percent of the bottled water found on American shelves is actually purified tap water. In a televised investigation on the “20/20” news program, five bottles of water from leading national brands were sent to a microbiologist to be tested against tap water taken from the center of New York City to find which, if any, contained sickness-causing bacteria like E. coli. They found no difference at all between the tap water and bottled water. Bottled water is also significantly more expensive than tap water, ranging from 240 to 10,000 times more in price.
The film Flow recommends as a solution that we boycott bottled water. This is not a difficult chore at all. I personally have a water filter that I purchased at Walgreens for less than twenty dollars and, if I do go out and wish to stay hydrated, I filter tap water and carry it with me on a reused bottle. Better yet, I flavor it with yerba maté or other nutritionally rich natural additives.
I realize that the issue hasn’t hit home yet for most Americans because the humanitarian water crisis is not yet a threat to our lifestyle for most of us, but it will be soon.
We know what companies are privatizing our water –I mentioned them earlier–, and we can only surmise what their future plans are. Filter your own water and use it to stay hydrated when you leave home. Please do not support these companies or buy bottled water. Boycott the water cartel!