Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the United Nations General Assembly. She also chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch and is a Councillor with the Hamburg-based World Future Council. Maude is the recipient of seven honorary doctorates as well as many awards, including the 2005 Right Livelihood Award (known as the “Alternative Nobel”), and the 2008 Canadian Environment Award. She is also the best selling author or co-author of 16 books, including the recently released Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and The Coming Battle for the Right to Water.
Question: Do you foresee wars over water?
Maude Barlow: There will be wars over water. There are wars over water now. Darfur was a water war. People don’t know that. It was a water dispute between the nomads and the farmers that the government then took advantage of, instead of helping to solve the dispute, to unleash their terror.
The Middle East is very much about water and the inequitable access to water by some people.
I talked earlier about the fact that China is going to build this great big pipeline and take water from the Tibetan Himalayas that belongs to rivers that feed Asia. I can imagine watching that as a potential area.
There are already huge fights between communities and big corporations.
One of the first water wars was in a place called Cochabamba, Bolivia in the late '90s when Bechtel, the big engineering company, set up a subsidiary to deliver water on a for-profit basis. And the first thing they did was triple the price of water. Then they said to people, "We are going to charge you for the water that you gather in big cisterns and pots on your roof."
And people said, "Water comes from the sky. What do you mean, you are going to charge us for that water?"
"Well, all the water here belongs to us now and so you have to pay us for that water."
People took to the streets and there were people killed. The army was brought in. There was a civil war. Really strong struggle. The people won. Bechtel was forced to leave.
These struggles are already happening and they are even happening between people.
One of the saddest stories in my research was that these farmers in this valley called the [inaudible] Valley in Indonesia, where Nestle, the big water bottled water company from Europe, has been draining the water sources. They get up in the morning and the water pools in a particular area and the farmers go with knives and machetes to fight each other for the water. I mean they get up really early and they go out and they fight to get that little bit of water.
I think that the disputes around water are going to be from human being to human being. It is going to be from humans and other species as we take more of our share of water and other species don’t have access. It is going to be between those of us who believe water is a public service and a human right, and those who think it is a commodity and so these big corporations.
It is going to be between countries. You are going to find it between states, try Georgia and Tennessee as they start to think about redoing the boundaries so Georgia has access to water. Or Mexico, which is claiming more of the Colorado [River], because the Colorado doesn’t reach there anymore. I can see as the water dries up and the Colorado is in catastrophic decline. That is the term that a group of scientist used recently; catastrophic decline. You can imagine what the population growth there, and that there is going to be disputes around water.
Who has the right to have swimming pools and golf courses when other people can't afford water? In Arizona, there is a big consortium planning a water park in the desert that will have waves that are so big that you will be able to surf, and a river that runs so fast and has so much water, you will be able to white water raft on it. This is insanity.
You are going to see a dispute between people with that kind of crazy money that can do that, or these kind of crazy ideas, or even Las Vegas that uses so much water with its fountains and so on.
There is going to be disputes that end up to some extent in wars.
And the last thing I should say about that is in researching my book, Blue Covenant, I was struck by how much the government here in the United States, the current government [i.e. the George W. Bush administration] and the Pentagon have suddenly discovered water as a national security issue. By that, I mean just as they see energy. "As America is running out of energy, we need to secure friendly supplies of energy"--so they are looking to Canada. Canada is the biggest supplier of energy to the United States now, as they want to wean themselves off Middle East energy.
Similarly, I believe that the United States is getting ready to seek water sources outside its borders to be secure water supplies for future times. I think they are looking at the Guarani aquifer, which is a big aquifer in South America. And I think they are looking at the water in Canada's north, which runs north. We don’t have lots of water along that border. We have got the great lakes, but we share that with the United States and it is in decline. The water we do have is in great big rivers running in the north, but they flow north. So, to get at that water would mean reversing the flow of that water, which would be like the Three Gorges Dam type technology in China. Big dams. Big reservoirs and then you would have to pump it through pipes using what?--nuclear power, I am not sure--to get that water to go south.
There would be great resistance in Canada to that because of the destruction it would create in the north.
I see these kind of geopolitical struggles taking place as the two super powers, China and the United States--and I consider China a super power now--the two super powers vie for these resources, water, force, mineral, energy, fish.
Recorded On: March 17, 2008