Life, Liberty, Water
As climate change and worldwide shortages loom, will people fight over water or join together to protect it? A global water justice movement is demanding a change in international law to ensure the universal right to clean water for all.
It’s a colossal failure of political foresight that water has not emerged as an important issue in the
Americans use water even more wastefully than oil. The U.S relies on non-renewable groundwater for 50 percent of its daily use, and 36 states now face serious water shortages, some verging on crisis.
Meanwhile, dwindling freshwater supplies around the world, inequitable access to water, and corporate control of water, together with impending climate change from fossil fuel emissions, have created a life-or-death situation across the planet.
Both Democrats and Republicans have emphasized loosening
This is not to say that no one is paying attention. In fact, water has become a key strategic security and foreign policy priority for the
Cut Deals, Carry Water
Corporate interests have pursued schemes to privatize, commodify, and export water for decades. We have seen how this plays out in
Now the Pentagon, as well as various
Under the name, “North American Future 2025 Project,” the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) brought together high level government officials and business executives from Canada, the United States, and Mexico for a series of six meetings to discuss a wide range of issues related to the Security and Prosperity Partnership, a controversial and tightly guarded set of negotiations to expand NAFTA. [See related story .]
“As … globalization continues and the balance of power potentially shifts, and risks to global security evolve, it is only prudent for Canadian, Mexican, and
On the agenda for one of two meetings in
The water and security connection deepens with the fact that Sandia National Laboratories, a vital partner with CSIS in its Global Water Futures Project, also plays a major role in military security in the
Ralph Pentland, water consultant and primary author of the Canadian government’s Federal Water Policy in 1987, believes that the purpose of these cross-border discussions is to secure sufficient water for
These schemes to displace water from one ecosystem to another in the service of corporate profit are an environmental problem for the entire planet, which is another reason why water must form a crucial part of any progressive discussion around
Corporate interests understand the connection and are using it to make their case for private solutions to the water crisis. In language that will be familiar to critics who argued that the
“Water issues are critical to
Water for All
Clearly, the powers that be in the
But there are alternatives.
North Americans must learn to live within our means, by conserving water in agriculture and in the home. We could learn from the many examples here and beyond our borders—from the New Mexican “Acequia” system that uses an ancient natural ditch irrigation tradition to distribute water in arid lands to the International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance in
Conservation strategies would undermine the massive investment now going into corporate technological and infrastructure solutions, such as desalination, wastewater reuse, and water transfer projects. And conservation would be many times cheaper, a boon to the public but not to the corporate interests that are currently driving international water agreements.
At the grassroots, a global water justice movement is demanding a change in international law to settle once and for all the question of who controls water, and whether responses to the water crisis will ensure water for the public or profits for corporations. Ricardo Petrella has led a movement in
Such campaigns may have a fight ahead of them, but the vision is within reach: a United Nations covenant that recognizes the right of the Earth and other species to clean water, pledges to protect and conserve the world’s water supplies, and forms an agreement between those countries who have water and those who don’t to work toward local—not corporate—control of water. We must acknowledge water as a fundamental human right for all.
Maude Barlow wrote this article as part of A Just Foreign Policy, the Summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Maude is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and author of Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming