The December issue of that other venerable American left-wing periodical, The Progressive, features an interview with Council of Canadians national chairperson and water rights advocate Maude Barlow, in which the future of fresh drinking water is discussed in depth. Barlow says access to clean water is “the most important human rights and ecological crisis of our time,” an assertion that’s hard to dispute after reading her sobering, well-reasoned and highly-detailed outline of what’s in store over the coming decades for both the Global North and South. As Barlow contends, “[t]his crisis isn’t getting better; it’s getting worse.”
Close to two billion people are now without adequate access to clean water, and most are living in the Global South. We in the Global North need to remember there is a Global South right here in our countries. The more water costs and the rarer it becomes and the more it’s owned by corporations, the more it’s going to be an issue of equity in our countries.
More children die every day of dirty water than HIV-AIDS, malaria, traffic accidents, and war put together. Half the hospital beds in the world are filled with people who would not be there if they could afford water. You go to many countries, and you will see the majority of people having no access to water and the wealthy having access to all the water they could ever want. It’s privatized. Sometimes it has to be trucked in. It’s all provided by corporations.Water has become the most important symbol of inequity and injustice in our world, because you die from a lack of water. You may not die from a lack of education, but you will immediately die from a lack of clean drinking water.
[…]We put something like 200 billion liters of water in plastic last year. That’s about 50 billion U.S. gallons. And 95 percent of that just ends up in landfills and is thrown into waterways. It’s not recycled.The other thing about bottled water that gets overlooked is that when you decide to use bottled water as your water source because you’re rich enough to be able to do it, you stop caring what comes out of the tap. It’s the true privatization of water. If you stop caring what comes out of the tap, you’re going to stop wanting to pay taxes for infrastructure repair. You don’t care anymore because you don’t drink that stuff since you don’t trust it. And you’re not going to worry about whether it’s clean enough for poor people, because you’ve got your bottled water. It is really becoming a class issue, this notion of bottled water, being able to distance yourself from what we all need to have as a basic, fundamental human right and public service, which is good, clean water, guaranteed clean by our government.
There is a wonderful water justice movement here in the United States and around the world. We call ourselves Water Warriors. And we’ve taken the time to create a set of principles upon which we agree. We basically agree, for instance, that if you ask the question who owns water, we will say, “Nobody owns it. It belongs to the Earth, it belongs to all species, it belongs to future generations. It’s a fundamental human right and a public service and a public trust.”
As they say, read the whole damn thing.