From the February 2003 Idaho Observer:
Water in the 21st century will be what oil was to the 20th
Global corporations scrambling to control water
by The Idaho Observer
As human population grows; as more trees are cleared to grow crops to feed them; as more chemicals and pesticides are spread and industrial waste are spread as fertilizer, clean water is becoming less and less common. Approximately 1/6 of the world's population no longer has access to clean water.
People must have food, water and shelter to survive. Since the beginning of time water, except in a few scattered examples of overpopulated cities, was clean. Today, however, water is increasingly unclean.
Because since prehistoric times clean water was able to be taken for granted, it had little value as a commodity -- almost anyone could get it. However, times have changed.
Times have changed so much, in fact, that in its 1993 Water Policy Paper, the World Bank called water, the last frontier of resource exploitation.
The World Bank determined that water is a global resource and that we should all have to pay equally for it. It also called for governments to sell off their jurisdiction over water and privatize their water resources and treatment and delivery infrastructures.
Fortune magazine recently observed that water is one of the world's great business opportunities, and that it promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th.
Water's big three
Mother Jones magazine published an excellent series of articles in its Nov./Dec., 2002 edition. It chronicled how major corporations are following the World Bank's lead and are gaining control over the precious resource at national and city levels.
Thus far, three main water magnates have emerged: Suez (120 million customers in 130 countries); Vivendi Universal (110 million customers in 100 countries) and; RWE/Thames Water (51 million customers in 44 countries).
The picture has changed some since Nov./Dec., 2002. According to the Associated Press, A recently completed $8.6 billion takeover of American Water Works by German industrial giant RWE has led to a backlash from a handful of cities across America. The deal covers more than 800 water systems serving 15 million people in 27 states and three Canadian provinces.
The cost of privatization
In 1999, Bechtel Corporation took over the water systems in Bolivia. Bechtel raised rates to the point that some residents were spending 20 percent of their income on water. Street protests led to riots in which six people were killed, wrote Mother Jones.
Bechtel's contract was cancelled and its employees moved away for their own safety.
In Atlanta, Georgia, United Water's contact with the city was discontinued because rates continued to climb while staff to service the aging system were reduced. Boil alerts due to contamination and extended outages from poor maintenance became so serious urbanites could go six days without water.
The Big Three reportedly spend a lot of time in court with unhappy customers.
The world is currently run by big oil. The World Bank and Fortune magazine predict that the world will soon be run by big water. The world's largest and most discompassionate corporations are at this time positioning themselves to control water and water delivery systems.
If current water privatization schemes are a window into the future of how water will be delivered to people in the 21st century, people should actively oppose water privatization. Big oil has been hard enough to live with at the gas pump. Imagine what the world will be like when the same folks determine how much we will pay for a drink of water.
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