Peak Water and Water Wars

"Water is fundamental for life and health. The right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realisation of all other human rights."
-- The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, 2002

related pages:

The Israel / Palestine war is in part about water.  The West Bank sits over a large aquifer.  In addition, the Golan Heights - annexed by Israel from Syria - is the headwaters of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River.  In a desert, control of water is as vital as control of oil for modern societies.


recommended book:

Blue Gold:
The Battle Against Corporate Theft of the World's Water
by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke
Stoddart Publishing Co. 2002

October 31, 2002
All's Well That Ends Wells:
Parching the Palestinians

"Resource wars" are things that happen elsewhere. We don't usually think of our country as water poor or imagine that "resource wars" might be applied as a description to various state and local governments in the southwest, southeast, or upper Midwest now fighting tooth and nail for previously shared water. And yet, "war" may not be a bad metaphor for what's on the horizon. According to the National Climate Data Center, federal officials have declared 43 percent of the contiguous U.S. to be in "moderate to extreme drought." Already, Sonny Perdue of Georgia is embroiled in an ever more bitter conflict -- a "water war," as the headlines say -- with the governors of Florida and Alabama, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, over the flow of water into and out of the Atlanta area.

He's hardly alone. After all, the Southwest is in the grips of what, according to Davis, some climatologists are terming a "'mega-drought,' even the 'worst in 500 years.'" More shockingly, he writes, such conditions may actually represent the region's new "normal weather" Or consider another "and then" prediction: What if the prolonged drought in the southwest turns out, as Mike Davis wrote in the Nation magazine, to be "on the scale of the medieval catastrophes that contributed to the notorious collapse of the complex Anasazi societies at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde during the twelfth century"?

What if, indeed

The Future Is Drying Up

Scientists sometimes refer to the effect a hotter world will have on this country's fresh water as the other water problem, because global warming more commonly evokes the specter of rising oceans submerging our great coastal cities. By comparison, the steady decrease in mountain snowpack - the loss of the deep accumulation of high-altitude winter snow that melts each spring to provide the American West with most of its water - seems to be a more modest worry. But not all researchers agree with this ranking of dangers. Last May, for instance, Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the United States government's pre-eminent research facilities, remarked that diminished supplies of fresh water might prove a far more serious problem than slowly rising seas.

Disappearing glaciers

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: October 22. 2007 5:00AM PST

On the far side of the Three Sisters, near the peak of Middle Sister, Collier Glacier has advanced and receded for the last several hundred thousand years.

But it will soon be time to bring rose petals to the mountain and sprinkle them on the glacier's remaining ice, bidding it farewell, said geologist Ellen Morris Bishop of the Fossil-based Oregon Paleo Lands Institute.

Calif. fires force 250,000 to evacuate

Sweatin' the Mediterranean Heat
Filed under: Instrumental Record Climate Science- group @ 5:42 AM
Guest Commentary from Figen Mekik

This quote from Drew Shindell (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York) hit me very close to home: "Much of the Mediterranean area, North Africa and the Middle East rapidly are becoming drier. If the trend continues as expected, the consequences may be severe in only a couple of decades. These changes could pose significant water resource challenges to large segments of the population" (February, 2007-NASA, Science Daily).

MELBOURNE'S water storages have fallen for the first time in more than four months, raising concerns about water security over summer.

The storages are holding about 75 billion litres less than they did at the same time last year - grim news as the city approaches summer.

Water Minister Tim Holding said last month that Stage 3a water restrictions would remain until June 30, 2008, no matter how low the storages fell.

Water levels fell as low as 28.4 per cent of capacity in June this year, a figure likely to be challenged if there is another dry summer and autumn.

Yesterday, the storages were at 40.1 per cent, a drop of 0.1 per cent. This is the first time they have dipped by that amount since June 16.

Melbourne Water spokesman Ben Pratt said it was a sign that the countryside was drying out.

"While we would obviously like to see storages continue to climb through spring, with the warmer weather we would expect some variations at this time of year as the top layers of the catchments begin to dry out and streamflows decline," he said.



March 14, 2003
San Francisco Chronicle
Water is a Matter of Public Debate
by Dennis Kucinich
Every human being has the right to clean water. In the United States, water has long been considered a vital resource and thus managed in the public interest by local governments accountable to their constituents.
The mission of a public water system is simple: Deliver safe, clean and affordable water to you and your family. Public works projects funded and built our existing water infrastructure, which has served us well during the last century. But our water infrastructure is beginning to show signs of age. Pollution, decaying pipes, depleted aquifers and other problems pose real threats to the U.S. water supply and communities across the nation are looking for ways to bring water systems up to safe and modern standards.
Privatizing water systems, however, is not the answer. Private companies, seeking to extract profits from municipal water systems, dangle lofty promises in order to gain control of local water systems. Corporations want people to believe that only they can efficiently manage water systems.
They seek monopoly contracts to run water systems for generations, or to expand the outright corporate ownership of water supplies and infrastructure.
Yet, from Atlanta to the United Kingdom to Huber Heights, Ohio, private water providers have charged higher rates, deteriorated water quality and failed to make assured investments. In fact, privatization failed so miserably in Atlanta that the city ousted United Water, only four years into a 20-year contract. Four years of broken promises and managerial debacles was more than enough.
Residents in many California communities are increasingly concerned with local water systems falling into the hands of a distant corporation. In Stockton, where city officials recently voted to privatize the public water system, citizens are responding by going door-to-door to collect signatures in an effort to nullify the City Council's decision.
I strongly believe that public control and public administration of the public's water supply is the only way to guarantee the universal human right of access to clean water. A grassroots movement of people is working to protect water from privatization by offering many alternative solutions to solve the global water crisis. Direct citizen participation should be encouraged when basic services such as water are being discussed. I hope that at the World Water Forum, which begins Sunday in Kyoto, Japan, this international movement of people will be heard.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is the ranking member of the House National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations Subcommittee. For information on the World Water Forum, see <>

Published on Tuesday, February 28, 2006 by the Independent / UK
Armed Forces Are Put on Standby to Tackle Threat of Wars over Water
by Ben Russell and Nigel Morris

Across the world, they are coming: the water wars. From Israel to India, from Turkey to Botswana, arguments are going on over disputed water supplies that may soon burst into open conflict.
Yesterday, Britain's Defence Secretary, John Reid, pointed to the factor hastening the violent collision between a rising world population and a shrinking world water resource: global warming.
In a grim first intervention in the climate-change debate, the Defence Secretary issued a bleak forecast that violence and political conflict would become more likely in the next 20 to 30 years as climate change turned land into desert, melted ice fields and poisoned water supplies.
Climate campaigners echoed Mr Reid's warning, and demanded that ministers redouble their efforts to curb carbon emissions.
Tony Blair will today host a crisis Downing Street summit to address what he called "the major long-term threat facing our planet", signalling alarm within Government at the political consequences of failing to deal with the spectre of global warming.
Activists are modelling their campaign on last year's Make Poverty History movement in the hope of creating immense popular pressure for action on climate change.
Mr Reid used a speech at Chatham House last night to deliver a stark assessment of the potential impact of rising temperatures on the political and human make-up of the world. He listed climate change alongside the major threats facing the world in future decades, including international terrorism, demographic changes and global energy demand.
Mr Reid signalled Britain's armed forces would have to be prepared to tackle conflicts over dwindling resources. Military planners have already started considering the potential impact of global warming for Britain's armed forces over the next 20 to 30 years. They accept some climate change is inevitable, and warn Britain must be prepared for humanitarian disaster relief, peacekeeping and warfare to deal with the dramatic social and political consequences of climate change.
Mr Reid warned of increasing uncertainty about the future of the countries least well equipped to deal with flooding, water shortages and valuable agricultural land turning to desert.
He said climate change was already a contributory factor in conflicts in Africa.
Mr Reid said: "As we look beyond the next decade, we see uncertainty growing; uncertainty about the geopolitical and human consequences of climate change.
"Impacts such as flooding, melting permafrost and desertification could lead to loss of agricultural land, poisoning of water supplies and destruction of economic infrastructure.
"More than 300 million people in Africa currently lack access to safe water; climate change will worsen this dire situation."
He added: "These changes are not just of interest to the geographer or the demographer; they will make scarce resources, clean water, viable agricultural land even scarcer.
"Such changes make the emergence of violent conflict more rather than less likely... The blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur. We should see this as a warning sign."
Tony Juniper, the executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "The science of global warming is becoming ever more certain about the scale of the problem we have, and now the implications of that for security and politics is beginning to emerge."
He said the problems could be most acute in the Middle East and North Africa.
Charlie Kornick, head of climate campaigning at the pressure group Greenpeace, said billions of people faced pressure on water supplies due to climate change across Africa, Asia and South America. He said: "If politicians realise how serious the problems could be, why are British CO2 emissions still going up?"
Tony Blair will be joined by the Chancellor Gordon Brown, the Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, and the International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, at today's talks in Downing Street.
They will be meeting representatives of the recently created Stop Climate Chaos, an alliance of environmental groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Oxfam. It will also meet opposition parties.
The alliance will call for the Government to commit itself to achieving a 3 per cent annual fall in carbon dioxide emissions.
The facts
* On our watery planet, 97.5 per cent of water is salt water, unfit for human use.
* Most of the fresh water is locked in the ice caps.
* The recommended basic water requirement per person per day is 50 litres. But people can get by with about 30 litres: 5 litres for food and drink and another 25 for hygiene.
* Some countries use less than 10 litres per person per day. Gambia uses 4.5, Mali 8, Somalia 8.9, and Mozambique 9.3.
* By contrast the average US citizen uses 500 litres per day, and the British average is 200.
* In the West, it takes about eight litres to brush our teeth, 10 to 35 litres to flush a lavatory, and 100 to 200 litres to take a shower.
* The litres of water needed to produce a kilo of:
Potatoes 1,000
Maize 1,400
Wheat 1,450
Chicken 4,600
Beef 42,500
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

The Huntsville Item

Hot issues light up meeting
By Tom Waddill/News Editor

Lois Kolkhorst expects fewer fireworks during the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature. There might not be any lawmaker walkouts or billion-dollar shortfalls like in 2003, but there will be plenty of challenges for those headed to Austin next week.
On Thursday, Kolkhorst talked about many of the state's hottest issues with people from the Huntsville area during a town hall meeting at the Walker County Courthouse. A near-capacity crowd came out on a chilly evening to listen to the state representative from District 13.


Sam Houston State political science professor John Holcombe questioned Kolkhorst about one of her pet projects and wondered if there were going to be any water issues to watch during the next few months.
"What's going on in water is pretty incredible," Kolkhorst replied. "Water will be one of the top five issues for the next five to 10 years, and it probably should be No. 1. We fight wars over oil, I wonder if we'll ever fight wars over water."
East Texas, she explained, has a tremendous amount of surface water from lakes like Livingston, Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, but East Texans don't want to trade their water yet. Kolkhorst said people in East Texas are starting to see the value in their surplus of water, and soon might be willing to share it for a price with metropolitan areas that need it.
"Water is very interesting. It's contentious," she said. "People don't like their water to be taken away. If you move water from rural areas, you should be compensated for it and compensated handsomely."

from the December 30, 2004 edition

Forget OPEC. The next cartel may export drinking water.

Already, companies are locking up resources and selling abroad.
By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Forget OPEC. Some experts say the next cartel will be an organization of water-exporting countries. Others see more danger in local privatization of water, which could restrict access to the poor within nations.
"Water is blue gold, it's terribly precious," says Maude Barlow, who chairs for the Council of Canadians, an Ottawa-based citizens' watchdog. "Not too far in the future, we're going to see a move to surround and commodify the world's fresh water. Just as they've divvied up the world's oil, in the coming century there's going to be a grab."
#1 Project Censored story for Year 2000
Who owns water?
CIA's "2015" report predicts water shortages, increasing inequities and public health emergencies


Billions of people may suffer severe water shortages as glaciers melt: WWFMILAN (AFP) Nov 27, 2003
Billions of people will face severe water shortages as glaciers around the world melt unless governments take urgent action to tackle global warming, the environmental group WWF said Thursday, ahead of a UN conference on climate change.
"Increasing global temperatures in the coming century will cause continued widespread melting of glaciers, which contain 70 percent of the world's fresh water reserves," it warned in a new study.
"An overall rise of temperature of four degrees Celsius before the end of the century would eliminate almost all of them," it said.
Average temperatures have risen between 0.6 and 0.7 degrees Celsius since 1860, according to WWF, which urged countries to curb emissions of carbon dioxide to ensure the increase stays well below a threshold of two degrees.
The Switzerland-based conservation group released its study on climate change and global glacier decline in Milan where more than 180 countries are due to gather from December 1-12 for the UN Climate Change Convention to assess progress in addressing problems concerning global warming.
"The melting of glaciers will lead to water shortages for billions of people, as well as sea levels rising and destroying coastal communities worldwide," WWF said.
Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, where major cities rely on glaciers as their main source of water during dry seasons, would be worst affected, it predicted.
In the Himalayas, there was a grave danger of flooding, the group said, noting that glacier-fed rivers in the region supply water to one third of the world's population.
"Glacial meltdown is a clear sign that we must act now to fight global warming and stop the melting," said Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF's climate change programme.
The environmental organisation called on the ministers who will attend the Milan conference to act faster to combat global warming, urging those from developing nations in particular to demonstrate their will to tackle the issue.
WWF wants strong rules governing the use of forests, which play a vital role in absorbing carbon dioxide.
The group also asked governments to ensure Russia ratifies the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which establishes a set of goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Already ratified by 119 countries, the text just needs a commitment from Moscow to become international law, it said.
On Tuesday, Italian officials said the European Union has pledged 390 million dollars (325 million euros) a year to help developing countries from 2005 fight the damaging effects of climate change.
In 2001, 20 countries including the 15 EU members pledged to provide 410 million dollars annually to poorer countries until 2005.
All rights reserved. © 2003 Agence France-Presse.

People's Water Forum Urges World Water Parliament
By Vanya Walker-Leigh
FLORENCE, Italy, March 24, 2003 (ENS) - The Iraq conflict is partly about future control of Iraq's huge water resources, an Italian Catholic missionary told an alternative world water forum in Florence, endorsing the meeting's closing call for a new world water deal based on public sector control and a legal right to water for all by 2020.
(*Editor's Note: In all of the stories that have come and gone in recent months, this could well be the most offensive of them all. ''It's simple," says Evangelical Christian Army chaplain Josh Llano. "They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized." In so many ways, this represents the true mindset of the individuals who have pushed this war. It is right down the line with the actions of this administration over the past three years; recall that, when our airmen were being held in China back in 2001, Mr. Bush was only concerned with whether or not they had Bibles. - wrp)
Army Chaplain Offers Baptisms, Baths
By Meg Laughlin
Miami Herald
Saturday 05 April 2003
CAMP BUSHMASTER, Iraq - In this dry desert world near Najaf, where the Army V Corps combat support system sprawls across miles of scabrous dust, there's an oasis of sorts: a 500-gallon pool of pristine, cool water.
It belongs to Army chaplain Josh Llano of Houston, who sees the water shortage, which has kept thousands of filthy soldiers from bathing for weeks, as an opportunity.
''It's simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized,'' he said.
And agree they do. Every day, soldiers take the plunge for the Lord and come up clean for the first time in weeks.
''They do appear physically and spiritually cleansed,'' Llano said.
First, though, the soldiers have to go to one of Llano's hour-and-a-half sermons in his dirt-floor tent. Then the baptism takes an hour of quoting from the Bible.
''Regardless of their motives,'' Llano said, ``I get the chance to take them closer to the Lord.''
A blue-eyed 32-year-old with an abundance of energy, Llano goes out every day to drum up grimy soldiers for his pool.
He talks to truck drivers, tank drivers, computer specialists -- anyone and everyone. He goes out to the combat zone to the fighting soldiers and the combat support soldiers who keep them in supplies.
''You have to be aggressive to help people find themselves in God,'' he said.
He calls himself a ''Southern Baptist evangelist,'' and justifies the war and killing with a verse from the Gospel of Matthew, which he often recites: ``Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.
''This means we are called upon by our government to fight and that is giving unto Caesar, as the Bible tells us,'' he said.
Earlier this week, word went out that portable showers might be installed here soon, but Llano was undaunted.
''There is no fruit out here, and I have a stash of raisins, juice boxes and fruit rolls to pull out,'' the chaplain said optimistically.


Broadcast on April 1, 2003 by the New York Daily News
Deal to Sell Water All Wet, Critics Charge
by Richard Sisk
UMM QASR, Iraq - The U.S. military came up with a solution yesterday for the penniless people of this port town begging for water: Sell it.
Despite general mayhem at distribution points - including knife fights - the Army has struck a hasty agreement with local Iraqis to expedite distribution of water to the roughly 40,000 living here.
Under the deal, the military will provide water free to locals with access to tanker trucks, who then will be allowed to sell the water for a "reasonable" fee.
"We're permitting them to charge a small fee for water," said Army Col. David Bassert.
"This provides them with an incentive to hustle and to work," said Bassert, an assistant commander with the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade.
He said he could not suggest what constitutes a reasonable fee and did not know what the truckers were charging. He said the tradition here of haggling at markets would help the system work.
"People know when they're being gouged - we'll deal with it," Bassert said.
But with the population badly in need of water, food and medical supplies, the arrangement drew its share of critics.
'This is crazy'
Several Iraqi-Americans originally from this region, who are working as interpreters and guides with the U.S. military, were incensed at what they consider an attempt to jump-start a free-market economy during a crisis.
"This is bull----," said an Iraqi-American who asked to be identified only as Ahmed. "They are selling water and this is crazy. Nobody has any money, nobody knows what is money [to use] - Iraqi money, American money, nobody knows."
A British military spokesman angrily objected to the water deal. The British control the city of Umm Qasr while the Americans are in charge of the port.
"We're not going to have any charging for water. What kind of an aid plan would that be? These people don't even have shoes," the spokesman said.
Ahmed and the others said they had seen fights with fists and knives among desperate locals trying to get water from the truckers.
Ill at ease
The reports could not be independently confirmed because a promised military escort for reporters into town never took place.
Officers said the trip was canceled because of widespread clashes between remnants of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's supporters and British troops, although no firing could be heard and the Iraqi-Americans who spent the afternoon in town said no clashes had taken place.
But the general situation was far from secure. A heavy mortar or artillery round launched toward the port shook buildings and rattled windows but exploded beyond the fence and caused no casualties.
Editor's Note: The military has confiscated the satellite phones of a certain make used by journalists traveling with U.S. troops in Iraq, including those used by reporter Richard Sisk and photographer Todd Maisel of the Daily News, for fear that Iraqi forces could intercept the signal and target U.S. positions. This dispatch has been sent by other means approved by the military, but military officials did not review or restrict its contents.
© 2003 Daily News, L.P.



Kurds Gassed / Iraq or Iran? + War for Water?
A War Crime or an Act of War?
by Stephen C. Pelletiere
Editorial/Op-Ed 31JAN2003

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. - It was no surprise that President Bush, lacking
smoking-gun evidence of Iraq's weapons programs, used his State of the
Union address to re-emphasize the moral case for an invasion: "The dictator
who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them
on whole villages, leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or
The accusation that Iraq has used chemical weapons against its citizens is
a familiar part of the debate. The piece of hard evidence most frequently
brought up concerns the gassing of Iraqi Kurds at the town of Halabja in
March 1988, near the end of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. President Bush
himself has cited Iraq's "gassing its own people," specifically at Halabja,
as a reason to topple Saddam Hussein.
But the truth is, all we know for certain is that Kurds were bombarded with
poison gas that day at Halabja. We cannot say with any certainty that Iraqi
chemical weapons killed the Kurds. This is not the only distortion in the
Halabja story.
I am in a position to know because, as the Central Intelligence Agency's
senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and as a
professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000, I was privy to much of
the classified material that flowed through Washington having to do with
the Persian Gulf. In addition, I headed a 1991 Army investigation into how
the Iraqis would fight a war against the United States; the classified
version of the report went into great detail on the Halabja affair.
This much about the gassing at Halabja we undoubtedly know: it came about
in the course of a battle between Iraqis and Iranians. Iraq used chemical
weapons to try to kill Iranians who had seized the town, which is in
northern Iraq not far from the Iranian border. The Kurdish civilians who
died had the misfortune to be caught up in that exchange. But they were not
Iraq's main target.
And the story gets murkier: immediately after the battle the United States
Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report,
which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know
basis. That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds,
not Iraqi gas.
The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle
around Halabja. The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated
they had been killed with a blood agent - that is, a cyanide-based gas -
which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used
mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at
the time.
These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as
often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned. A
much-discussed article in The New Yorker last March did not make reference
to the Defense Intelligence Agency report or consider that Iranian gas
might have killed the Kurds. On the rare occasions the report is brought
up, there is usually speculation, with no proof, that it was skewed out of
American political favoritism toward Iraq in its war against Iran.
I am not trying to rehabilitate the character of Saddam Hussein. He has
much to answer for in the area of human rights abuses. But accusing him of
gassing his own people at Halabja as an act of genocide is not correct,
because as far as the information we have goes, all of the cases where gas
was used involved battles. These were tragedies of war. There may be
justifications for invading Iraq, but Halabja is not one of them.
In fact, those who really feel that the disaster at Halabja has bearing on
today might want to consider a different question: Why was Iran so keen on
taking the town? A closer look may shed light on America's impetus to
invade Iraq.
We are constantly reminded that Iraq has perhaps the world's largest
reserves of oil. But in a regional and perhaps even geopolitical sense, it
may be more important that Iraq has the most extensive river system in the
Middle East.
In addition to the Tigris and Euphrates, there are the Greater Zab and
Lesser Zab rivers in the north of the country. Iraq was covered with
irrigation works by the sixth century A.D., and was a granary for the region.
Before the Persian Gulf war, Iraq had built an impressive system of dams
and river control projects, the largest being the Darbandikhan dam in the
Kurdish area. And it was this dam the Iranians were aiming to take control
of when they seized Halabja. In the 1990's there was much discussion over
the construction of a so-called Peace Pipeline that would bring the waters
of the Tigris and Euphrates south to the parched Gulf states and, by
extension, Israel. No progress has been made on this, largely because of
Iraqi intransigence. With Iraq in American hands, of course, all that could
Thus America could alter the destiny of the Middle East in a way that
probably could not be challenged for decades - not solely by controlling
Iraq's oil, but by controlling its water. Even if America didn't occupy the
country, once Mr. Hussein's Baath Party is driven from power, many
lucrative opportunities would open up for American companies.
All that is needed to get us into war is one clear reason for acting, one
that would be generally persuasive. But efforts to link the Iraqis directly
to Osama bin Laden have proved inconclusive. Assertions that Iraq threatens
its neighbors have also failed to create much resolve; in its present
debilitated condition - thanks to United Nations sanctions - Iraq's
conventional forces threaten no one.
Perhaps the strongest argument left for taking us to war quickly is that
Saddam Hussein has committed human rights atrocities against his people.
And the most dramatic case are the accusations about Halabja.
Before we go to war over Halabja, the administration owes the American
people the full facts. And if it has other examples of Saddam Hussein
gassing Kurds, it must show that they were not pro-Iranian Kurdish
guerrillas who died fighting alongside Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Until
Washington gives us proof of Saddam Hussein's supposed atrocities, why are
we picking on Iraq on human rights grounds, particularly when there are so
many other repressive regimes Washington supports?
Stephen C. Pelletiere is author of "Iraq and the International Oil System:
Why America Went to War in the Persian Gulf."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company



World's Water Supply at Risk
By Kevin Danaher and Shannon Biggs and Jason Mark, PoliPoint Press
Posted on September 26, 2007, Printed on September 26, 2007

The following conversation is an excerpt from the new book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (PoliPointPress, 2007) by Kevin Danaher, Shannon Biggs, and Jason Mark. You can read more about the book here.

Maude Barlow is possibly the world's leading expert on water struggles. She is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, that country's largest citizen's advocacy group, with members and chapters across Canada. She is a director with the International Forum on Globalization, a San Francisco research and education institution opposed to corporate globalization. In 2005, she received the prestigious "Right Livelihood Award," given by the Swedish Parliament and widely referred to as "The Alternative Nobel." She has received honorary doctorates from six universities and has authored or co-authored 15 books, including Too Close For Comfort: Canada's Future Within Fortress North America; and Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop Corporate Theft of the World's Water (with Tony Clarke). Her most recent book is Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Fight for the Right to Water.

Q: What are the greatest threats to local water supplies?

Maude Barlow: 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.

Q: What are some success stories of people protecting their water?

MB: The people of Uruguay held a plebiscite and got enough votes for a referendum in the national election in October 2004 in which they called for a constitutional amendment saying that water is a human right, and they won. The government was forced to change its constitution, and Uruguay became the first country in the world to vote on whether people have a human right to water, and the private companies were forced out.

There have been quite a few successful fight-backs across North America. The city of Atlanta allowed a private company to come in to run its water system, and the city kicked them out two and a half years into a 20-year contract. They said, "Get out. You lied. The water coming out of the taps is brown, and you raised the price. Get out." We kept private water companies from taking over the water systems in Toronto and Vancouver. There's a big movement in the heart of France, led by Danielle Mitterand, the widow of the former French president, Francois Mitterand. She is leading this fight 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.

Q: What about the struggle against Coca-Cola in India?

MB: When you dig deep into Coca-Cola's practices, you see it's really a bad company. They are using military satellite imagery to find clean sources of groundwater and then going in -- often in poor tribal communities -- and setting up a plant and just helping themselves to the water until the water is gone. I call it water mining. We're working with folks in the state of Kerala, India, who have taken the Coca-Cola company all the way to their Supreme Court to fight the way Coke comes in and sucks up massive amounts of groundwater, pollutes it with sweeteners and chemical additives, and then makes huge profits selling this nonnutritious drink to the public. The Supreme Court of India has ruled largely in the people's favor. Yet Coke is still fighting; they refuse to give up. But these grassroots activists don't give up, either. It's been a real successful fight-back against Coca-Cola.

Q: Does it seem to you that the United States and Canada are more, or less, water-conscious than people in other nations?

MB: Individually, we are terrible water-guzzlers. We use a great deal of water per capita through our industrial practices, agriculture, mining, and, in my country, through oil extraction from tar sands. We take a little better care of our groundwater than many Third World countries because we citizens have a little more control; the corporations tend to be from our countries, and we can exert greater influence on them. There is serious pollution -- I'm not suggesting there isn't -- but we don't see the kind of blatant pollution you see in many poor countries. In some 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's bringing massive pollution.

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.

We're creating massive water pollution problems. It's lower in the U.S. and Canada because we've got more money for clean-up and slightly better laws for industry. But water pollution is happening just about everywhere. The only societies where water is still treated sacredly are in ancient tribal societies. Many rural communities in India, China, Africa, and Latin America are still living the way that their ancestors did centuries ago; they aren't creating significant levels of pollution.

Q: Who's using the bulk of the water here in North America?

MB: 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.

Q: Are there any really tough issues that the movement needs to face that you feel we're not confronting adequately?

MB: That's the part of my new book that surprised me the most: the technological takeover of our planet's water system. We have been following very closely the big utility companies like Suez and Vivendi, who run water systems on a for-profit basis. And we have been following the bottled water companies, and those have been the kind of two big ones.

And then we have been worried about major movement of water through pipelines, but we have not been keeping our eye on the whole issue of technology to clean up dirty water, whether that's desalination, water purification, nanotechnology purification. It's going to be the "great white hope," and it's all unregulated and very corporate controlled, and it doesn't surprise me that when you look at the United Nations' millennium development goals on water, nobody is talking about cleaning up polluted water. Because, hey, there's gold in those hills. The more our water becomes polluted, the more precious it becomes. The more desperate people are, the more they will pay for their water, and the more money there is to be made from cleaning it up.

The fastest-growing sector of the private water industry is this high technology water clean-up section of this industry, and we must get a better handle on the whole thing. I think that what we are seeing is a cartel of water that is being created like the cartel that has been created for energy. For a long time now, when there was a find of a new field of oil or gas, some large corporation owned it even before it was out of the ground. I see them doing this now with water, and I call them water hunters. These water hunters move in with one goal: to monopolize control over a precious resource in order to make money.

Q: Are you noticing a greater receptivity to your message about the coming water crisis?

MB: 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.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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