The water crisis

20 January, 2009

I drink my water from the tap. No Perrier or Evian for me; as the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for drinking-water quality explain, bottled water is stored for longer periods and at higher temperatures than tap water, allowing some microorganisms to grow to higher levels.

Then again, I have a choice. It’s true that a murky stream flows through our quarter, or a polluted river through our town, but I’ve never had the need to get my water from there. I am lucky.

Other people need to make do with the water they have. Or, as the Bolivians of Cochabamba found in 2000, with the water they don’t have. The Bechtel corporation had stepped in a year earlier to become the beneficiary of the drive to privatise water. Two months after the transfer, Bechtel increased water prices by fifty percent. Bolivians were faced with a choice: die of thirst or rise against the new owners.

On the Indian subcontinent, the Coca Cola corporation extracts water from the soil that had been used for generations by farmers in the surrounding area. People buy the corporation’s products, paying the sticker price. The farmers pay through decreased harvests and increasingly frequently with suicide.

In a world where the profit motive regulates the allocation of water, the individual is left powerless. Granted, you can buy a water saving shower head or a dual flush toilet. Through that, you contribute by being less wasteful. But people that crave for water have no such luxury. They need clean water now.

Laws serve to protect the interests of the powerful. For the lower and middle classes to push through the required social change that ensures the market has no place in the allocation of water, direct action is required. Governments need to be presented with a simple equation: it is more expensive to ignore the interests of the people than to ignore those of the corporations.

If we want to redress the disastrous deregulation that has been taking place worldwide in the allocation of water, we can rely on neither the government nor the individual. Instead, we need to put our heads together and initiate orchestrated action against those that lobby for that deregulation and those that implement it. Against the corporations and against government.

Over one billion people have no access to clean drinking water. These are people that could very well stand on our doorstep tomorrow morning, breaking down the door to get access to the water they have as much of a right to as we do. Let us all engage in direct action to force the hand of the establishment and see to it that water allocation is done on the basis of needs rather than profits.

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