“Water must be an essential human right because it bears directly on the development of life of all beings on the planet and is a fundamental component in the mobilization of all productive processes.”
- Bolivian President Evo Morales.
Water is the essence of life. Without water our planet dies. There would be no plants, animals or human beings. Water is the lifeblood of the planet and it is crucial for all socioeconomic development. About 97.5% of the water on our planet is salty. Only a 2.5% is fresh water and most of that is stored in the polar ice caps, leaving less than 1% available for human consumption.
In 1950, the world’s population was approximately 2.5 billion. By 2010 the population rose to 7 billion, and is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050. The increase in the population has intensified the use of water sources in different sectors. Agriculture currently accounts for 70% of water consumption worldwide, and is projected to double by 2050. Industry currently accounts for 22 % of the consumption and domestic activities just 8%. Increased agricultural production will increase water consumption. This will generate several tensions, conflicts among users and huge pressure on the environment.
Advanced industrial countries use around 60% of water for industry, versus only 10% in poor countries. The difference in domestic water use is much smaller, at 11% for rich countries and 8% for poor countries.
The common domestic uses of water include drinking, food preparation and hygiene.
Water is a Human Right
On the July 28, 2010 after many years of struggle led by the President of Bolivia Evo Morales, the United Nations General Assembly voted on Bolivia’s resolution to declare water and sanitation “a basic human right”, and acknowledged that these are a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights. However, the motion was not universally supported. The US, Canada, Britain, Australia, Israel and 36 other countries abstained.
For the majority of people living in the Advanced industrial countries cities, clean drinking water is only as far away as the nearest tap. However, many people living in third world countries and in small, rural and indigenous communities around the world are struggling everyday to have access to clean drinking water. Even though water has been declared a human right, not enough effort had been made to guarantee this right. Almost 900 million people in the world still do not have access to clean drinking water, and more than double that do not have adequate sanitation. 2 million people, mostly children, die every year due to causes that are directly or indirectly related to not having access to clean water. Canada is not the exception. 6 million people are currently at risk for water borne disease in this country, many of them are indigenous people.
Water and Inequality
Water scarcity is highly related to inequality. Poor and indigenous people are the most affected by water scarcity. According to the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, 1.6 billion people face “economic water shortage”. This means they cannot afford sufficient access to water even if there is an adequate source available.
While the average person in Europe and North American consumes between 200 and 600 liters of water a day, 1 in 5 people in developing countries do not have access to sufficient clean water (20 liters a day). In addition, people in the slums of developing countries typically pay 5 to 10 times more per unit of water than people living in rich countries.
Water and sanitation issues also have gender implications. Women in developing countries are in charge of the water. In most rural areas, women and girls walk long distances to access water from remote locations. On average they must spend 6 hours walking 6 kilometers each day, carrying up to 20 kilograms.
Who is Responsible for the Water Scarcity Crisis?
Commonly the water scarcity crisis is blamed on poor management, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inefficiency and a shortage of investment. However, the most important predator of water and natural resources is the colonial capitalist imperialist system. This system encourages the privatization of natural resources in poor and developing countries. It also facilitates and promotes the overexploitation of these natural resources (such as lakes and rivers) by corporations, converting Mother Earth into an object of their domination. At the same time, corporations prioritize their own economic interests above the wellbeing of the planet, without considering ecological limits set by the water cycle or rising human poverty.
The international imperialist free trade agreements and organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) play an important role supporting and defending the economic interests of corporations. There are countless examples in which corporations and capitalism are destroying natural water sources and the quality of life of people around the world. In this article we will focus only on three.
Nestle Bottled Water in British Columbia, Canada
While several indigenous communities in BC lack access to clean water, Nestle Corporation is paying only $2.25 per 1 million of liters of water it extracts. At the same time that this corporation is taking limitless amounts of natural water sources to sell for an enormous profit, the provincial government is asking people to reduce their water consumption by taking shorter showers! Some groups are asking the provincial government to increase the ridiculously low rates Nestle pays for water. However, overall water sources should not be commoditized for a company’s private profit, because they belong to all of the community and are part of complex ecosystems.
Drinking Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan
In December of 2015 local officials declared a state of emergency in Flint. In order to prevent bankruptcy, they decided to try and save money on water. They had been purchasing increasingly expensive water from Detroit, and changed to a cheaper source from Huron Lake. Unfortunately this was done without any real water analysis. The switch would initially save millions of dollars per year, but the water from Huron Lake corroded the pipes, increasing levels of lead poisoning for the people of Flint, especially children. Lead poisoning affects brain development and causes learning disabilities, lower IQ’s and impulsivity.
The Struggle for Water in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
In 1997, the World Bank refused to give $600 million of debt relief to Bolivia unless the country agreed to privatize water. The city of Cochabamba had also sold its water company to the transnational consortium Aguas del Tunari, controlled by US company Bechtel. Bechtel increased water prices from $20 to $30 monthly. This price was unaffordable for Cochabambans, who were earning about $100 per month.
However, this situation gave origin to a historic movement against water privatization which included farmers, factory workers, rural and urban water committees, neighborhood organizations, students, and middle class professionals. The main leaders of this social movement were Oscar Olivera and Evo Morales.
Despite the constant oppression from the police, the movement forced Bechtel to decrease its water prices, and the company was eventually forced to end its contract. After this battle, people in Bolivia continued their struggle and elected Evo Morales as President in 2006. Bolivia’s constitution now bans water privatization on the grounds that water access is a human right.
This last example gives us huge inspiration as a demonstration of a people’s victory against corporations and foreign domination. Today, Latin-American countries led by Bolivia and strongly supported by Cuba and Venezuela, are taking an ethical obligation towards the planet and advocating the need for human beings to recover a sense of unity and relevance with Mother Earth.
Our Planet is in a Dangerous Situation and our Water Cannot be in Private Hands!
Now is the time to take action, to mobilize, and to change the world and our own minds. Now is the time to bury the idea of happiness and success based on the possession of material goods, and to spread connection, respect and empathy with our Mother Earth. As Evo Morales said, “It is the beginning of the end of unfettered capitalism as well as the transition from the time of violence between human beings and violence to nature to a new time in which human beings will constitute a unity with Mother Earth and all will live in harmony and equilibrium with the cosmos as a whole.
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