How has the world's water been commercialized?

Water is blue gold, Barlow says.
  • Transcript


Maude Barlow: Well, as you can imagine, if we have something you need for life, and the demand is going like that, and the supply is going like that, they are crossing, no surprise, you get private sector interest coming and saying, well, there is a gold in that there and then there are hills, there is gold in that blue.

I call it blue gold. There is gold in that water.

From every facet of water, from the delivery of water to your home, or the treatment of waste water, to bottled water, to now these great big desalination plants, water recycling, even getting into nano technology, cloud seeding, so one diligent China steals the rain before it gets to the next.

We are beginning to see what I call a corporate cartel around water, which is that water is beginning to be claimed and owned by private sector interests even before it is out of the ground almost.

We can compare it to energy companies so that when a new find of gas or oil is discovered, it is owned and spoken for by a corporation before it is even out of the ground. I worry about this very much because as corporations control more and more of the water in the world, they are going to be able to charge exorbitant prices. Already it is charging exorbitant prices for a bottle of water.

If you can afford it, to heck with you, right?

So, what is happening is that water is going to be taken out of the price range of millions and millions of people already in the third world. Millions of people haven’t got access to water who would access to water if they could buy it.

Big companies like Suez and Veolia have been forced on the global south countries by the World Bank, and they come in and they run these water systems on a for-profit basis. Sure, there is water, but if you can't pay for it, they turn your tap off, they turn the meter off.

That is beginning to happen here [in the USA] too. A few years ago in Detroit, the water authority there turned the water systems off to 42,000 families, mostly African Americans, older people, poor people, who couldn't pay their water bills because the water bills were jacked up.

And then they turned around and they send social services in and they took the kids away if they had small children in the house, because they couldn't provide water to the kids.

It is really, a really serious thing and you are going to hear more of that in the whole of the north, the global north and North America and Europe and so on, where we have lots of poor people.

And even the middle class is going to have trouble paying water bills when they are jacked up three to four times to what they are now.

Water is probably going to have to reflect more of its real value, in terms of, we are probably are going to have to charge, but we need to provide a certain basic amount of water for human needs everyday to people free of charge. And what is happening in the developing world is that they haven’t been doing it that way. They say maybe a tiny bit, but it is not enough to live on. So, people are in crisis everywhere.

Then there is bottled water and last year we put something like 50 billion liters of water in plastic around the world, creating just mountains of plastic garbage. Using more fossil fuels, more energy of course, which contributes to the whole global warming phenomenon.

It is another way of privatizing water, because if you say well, I am not going to trust tap water anymore--and that is foolish, because North America, your tap water is safe as in bottled water. It [tap water] is more regulated than bottled water. But if you say well, I don’t trust it anymore, so I am going to bottled water, then you are basically saying I don’t care what comes out of the tap. So I am not going to pay taxes to have the infrastructure repaired so that the water coming out of the tap is safe because I don’t care. Because I am not drinking that stuff anymore.

So, it is a disconnect from the public tap, and the more we disconnect, the more some people will have bottled water they buy and other people will have a system that maybe allowed to deteriorate because those people buying bottled water, who are richer and probably more powerful, don’t care anymore.

It is a really vicious cycle.

We have to care what comes out of the tap, not just for us, but for our neighbors, for people we even don’t know, because public health is connected to public water, which is why we got public water in the first place.

New York had private water at one point, and it was such a disaster, this was a century ago. It was such a disaster that the government took it over and said we will run it as a public service. The reason was not so altruistic that everybody has the right, although some people believed and still believe that -- I believe that -- but it was also that the only way to fight the public diseases -- diphtheria, and these kind of things -- was with clean water for everybody.

So if you had that stability and that health, that gave you the economic basis to build your resources and to build up a domestic economy.

Clean public water was an important foundation of our wealth in the North and we need to remember that. There is a reason that you have good, clean water for everybody; I think there should be a reason to have good healthcare for everybody -- because it benefits the whole society and it is expensive when people get sick from dirty water.

Recorded On: March 17, 2008