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Our New Resource Crisis
Global Drinking Water

By Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Sociology Department/Project Censored

Imagine, that we are beyond the energy crisis-in that we are used to paying double or triple prices for what in the previous century was a small part of the family budget. But now we are faced with a new shortage that taps another precious resource. Water only comes through the tap fours hours a day and we are forced to pay ten to hundred times what we paid in the 90s. Welcome to the world of privatized water, where fresh water is treated like a commodity, traded and sold in the international market to the highest bidder.

No longer can you assume a God-given right to drink from a mountain spring, but instead you will have to pay a toll to drink from Enron Springs, Monsanto Wells or receive tap water from Bechtel Water Works. 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 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 the amount of water that is currently available. Multinational corporations recognize these trends and are trying to monopolize water supplies around the world. Monsanto, Bechtel, Enron and other global multinationals are seeking control of world water systems and supplies.

The World Bank recently adopted a policy of water privatization and full-cost water pricing. This policy is causing great distress in many Third World countries, which fear that their citizens will not be able to afford for-profit water.

Last year in a little known case of high scale international water marketing, a supertanker was reported to have filled up with water from Lake Erie and after paying the Canadian Government they shipped the water to Southeast Asia.

Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, Canada's largest public advocacy group, states, "Governments around the world must act now to declare water a fundamental human right and prevent efforts to privatize, export, and sell for profit a substance essential to all life. Research has shown that selling water on the open market only delivers it to wealthy cities and individuals. The finite sources of freshwater (less than one half of one per cent of the world's total water stock) are being diverted, depleted, and polluted so fast that, by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world's population will be living in a state of serious water deprivation."

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 in institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). These agreements give transnational corporations the unprecedented right to the water of signatory ! compan ies.

Monsanto plans to earn revenues of $420 million and a net income of $63 million by 2008 from its water business in India and Mexico. Monsanto estimates that water will become a multibillion-dollar market in the coming decades.

This international water crisis news story was selected by over 150 faculty and student researchers at Sonoma State University's Project Censored in California as the number one most censored news story for 2000. Credit for original reporting goes to:

Peter Phillips is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored. Research for this story is from the book Censored 2001, 25th Anniversary Edition, scheduled for release in March of this year from Seven Stories Press.

Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Sociology Department/Project Censored
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928

See Also:
  • The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World's Water Supply,
    by Maude Barlow, IFG Seattle Teach-In Transcript, 11/26/99

  • Water for People and Nature: A Forum on Conservation and Human Rights
    University of British Columbia Campus, Vancouver, British Columbia
    July 5-8, 2001
    Water resources around the world are under pressure. Pollution, depletion and privatization are putting more and more of this shared and precious resource in jeopardy. Water for People and Nature: An International Forum on Conservation and Human Rights will produce a platform to ensure that water conservation and every person's fundamental right to clean, safe water become the focus of strategies for water in this century.
            The conference will bring together water experts, activists and municipal leaders from around the world for three days of discussion and debate. Workshops will allow participants the opportunity to discuss the central issues facing water today and contribute to a final report towards a plan to achieve environmental and social justice.
            To facilitate this process, simultaneous interpretation will be available in English, French, and Spanish for both the plenaries and workshops.

  • The Blue Planet Project
    The Blue Planet Project is an international effort begun by The Council of Canadians to protect the world's fresh water from the growing threats of trade and privatization. During March 16-22, 2000, activists from Canada and more than a dozen other countries met in The Hague to oppose the trade and privatization agenda of the Second World Water Forum and to kick start an international network to protect water as a common resource and a basic human right.

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