Maude Barlow of Canada, winner of the 'Right Livelihood Award' in 2005 and the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, that country's largest citizen's advocacy group is worried that a huge water crisis is building up across the world.
In an interview she warns of the insidious attempts by private corporations to appropriate whatever has been enjoyed in common by most communities.
'First of all, we are creating an ecological crisis by not taking care of our water supplies. Surface waters are being polluted, and we are mining our groundwater at unsustainable rates. At the very time when corporations are privatizing everything, our governments are allowing corporations to move in and take over the ownership of essential resources like water.
'So we have a double whammy: Our governments are allowing corporations to pollute our water, and then they are signing contracts with corporations to bring in clean-up technology and make billions of dollars cleaning it up. The very sector of society that is polluting our water is turning around and selling our water back to us. And this is going to be more and more of an issue in the future. We'll be increasingly drinking water that has been polluted by corporations, then cleaned up by corporations, then bottled and sold to us by corporations,' she says in an incisive analysis.
Still she also notes that people's movements are also building up, scoring some successes as in Kerala in India against Coca Cola. Even in Danielle Mitterand, the widow of the former French president, Francois Mitterand is heading a struggle to bring water under public control, and many city mayors of some good-sized towns and cities -- not yet Paris -- are backing her.
'So even in the belly of the beast, there are some exciting movements,' she notes with some satisfaction.
At the same she also points out that in developing countries the water is foul due to the combination of absolutely no sanitation systems, people using river systems as toilets, to bathe in, to cook in, their garbage dumps, their sewage dumps, everything goes into those open waterways where there's no purification or any kind of water reclamation. As industrial growth and the industrial model moves into the Third World, it too is bringing massive pollution in its wake.
'Also, people are being driven off the land. They are moving into urban slums where there's no water, and they create more of a problem because they are adding to the numbers in the cities that are not treating their sewage. About 90 percent of the sewage in the countries of the global south goes untreated back into waterways, rivers, and oceans. It's a cyclical problem that intensifies as we move from rural sustainable living to urban unsustainable living,' she says.
In the West on the other hand, the situation may not be that bad. But most of the water is used by industry and agribusiness, which is also an industry. The industrial food production system uses nitrates, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides, which contaminate a lot of water. Intensive livestock operations create horrible pollution. So one of the most important things we can do is to create a more sustainable agricultural system.
When asked whether there was any response to her campaigns, she replied, 'Most definitely. I was in down in Lubbock, Texas, on a local radio station, and this guy called in and said, 'I'm a right-wing, diehard, Republican, red meat, conservative businessman. And I think the little lady's right. Water is different. You can't have anyone monopolize it.' It was fascinating; he totally had my argument. We didn't agree on anything else, but we agreed on the importance of retaining public control over this vital resource. So that is hopeful.'