[News] The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 20 11:54:52 EDT 2018


  The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South

by Julian Vigo <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/q7netaje/> - March 
20, 2018

Argentina just experienced its worse drought 
in thirty years; California recently suffered its worse drought since 
the 1400s according to ring tree research carried out by the University 
of Arizona 
Oregon Governor Kate Brown just signed an executive order over the dire 
conditions of drought in the Klamath Basin, agriculture disaster was 
recently declared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture 
in four states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas) due to 
drought, concentrated in to a total of 25 parishes and 124 counties; 
last week Iranian farmers in Isfahan 
protested the government’s failure to act on a drought that has plagued 
the region for over a decade; farmers in Maharashtra, India protested 
over loan waivers, prices, and land rights with state ministers due to 
the growing problem of drought 
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-43368050> in the region; on 
Tuesday, Kansas Governor, Jeff Colyer 
signed a drought declaration for all 105 counties in the state of 
Kansas; and also on Tuesday the South African government declared that 
the drought afflicting Cape Town and other parts of the country is a 
national disaster 

These are just a few facts regarding the mounting problems of water 
supply around the world with Cape Town being one of the more serious 
cases.  Aside from the obvious problems of climate change where drought 
poses a threat to green spaces and wildlife 
to the local economy 
and tourism 
the more obvious danger is to agriculture 
as well as to health and sanitation 
In its third year of consecutive drought, Cape Town residents are 
limited to 50 liters of water per day and “Day Zero 
said to arrive on 9 July of this year, is that moment when the water 
supply is so low that three-quarters of the population will have its 
water shut off.

While droughts are a natural phenomenon in the Western Cape 
climate change has exacerbated the conditions for inhabitants of this 
region and it is widely believed that climate change is playing a 
principle role in the devastation.  While global warming has already 
resulted in extreme conditions in this region and beyond, scientists 
underscore the need for humans to adapt to this new reality where, for 
instance, in the Western Cape, the weather is expected to warm by around 
0.25C over the next decade. This fact alone means that the likelihood of 
drought will increase sevenfold and affect the state of health, hygiene, 
and food insecurity in the region.

One strange player that has come to the “rescue” in the Western Cape is 
Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages, in partnership with the Coca-Cola 
Foundation and suppliers. Attempting to provide millions of liters of 
water to the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town during the water 
crisis, providing free “prepared water” in 2-liter recyclable PET 
bottles marked “Not for resale.”  South Africa is the only country in 
the world which has a Constitution that guarantees the right to water in 
the Bill of Rights but this right is not only being denied to millions 
of residents of the country.   In the Western Cape and other provinces 
over 1 million people have been affected by water shortages and water 
restrictions with many having to walk tens of kilometers to source 
drinking water.  So the protection of South Africa’s constitutional 
guarantee of water has become especially dear to many.

Back in the early 2000s, townships surrounding the cities of 
Johannesburg and Durban 
<https://www.thenation.com/article/who-owns-water/> became politically 
mobilized in protesting water privatization given the fact that at the 
time over 10 million residents had their water cut off by the 
government’s implementation of a World Bank-inspired “cost recovery 
program.  This program made water availability dependent on a company’s 
ability to recover its costs plus a profit and more than 100,000 people 
in Kwazulu-Natal <http://www.umgeni.co.za/media_centre/drd.asp> province 
became ill with cholera 
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1119381/> after water and 
sanitation services to local communities were cut off for nonpayment.

In their brilliant exposé of this situation in South Africa and beyond, 
“Who Owns Water? <https://www.thenation.com/article/who-owns-water/>”, 
Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke give a scathing explanation of what was at 
stake back in 2002, the situation far more aggravated today.  They 
identify the ten major corporations making a profit from freshwater 
beginning with France’s Vivendi Universal and Suez whom they label the 
“General Motors and Ford of the global water industry.” Barlow and Clare 
go on to characterize how these two and other companies:

/deliver private water and wastewater services to more than 200 million 
customers in 150 countries and are in a race, along with others such as 
Bouygues Saur, RWE-Thames Water and Bechtel-United Utilities, to expand 
to every corner of the globe.” In the United States, Vivendi operates 
through its subsidiary, USFilter; Suez via its subsidiary, United Water; 
and RWE by way of American Water Works./

But what about the World Bank and its’ “cost recovery” programs?  Aren’t 
they working?  The short answer is yes: they are working to help 
increase the coffers of theWorld Bank and the IMF as poor countries 
continue to become poorer and Barlow and Claire 
<https://www.thenation.com/article/who-owns-water/> elaborate:

/They are aided by the World Bank and the IMF, which are increasingly 
forcing Third World countries to abandon their public water delivery 
systems and contract with the water giants in order to be eligible for 
debt relief. The performance of these companies in Europe and the 
developing world has been well documented: huge profits, higher prices 
for water, cutoffs to customers who cannot pay, no transparency in their 
dealings, reduced water quality, bribery and corruption./

In a country where the minority of white farmers (six hundred thousand) 
consume 60 percent of the country’s water supplies for irrigation, it is 
no surprise that the country’s 15 million black citizens have no direct 
access to water. Labor unions like the South African Municipal Workers 
Union have collaborated with township activists to organize neighborhood 
actions where citizens are connecting water up themselves and ripping 
out water meters.  The injustices of foreign-owned companies coming into 
South Africa are being addressed but all too slowly as residents’ water 
is cut off, rarely is it the water of white South Africans.

Such is life in the twenty-first century when older trade deals such as 
NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) saw governments signing away 
their control over domestic water supplies and the later failed attempt 
to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and also the the 
World Trade Organization.  It is increasingly clear given the current 
state of drought which bodies have access to water, which ones do not. 
And despite our desire to “fix” these problems thought hackathons in the 
Nevada Desert 
or by adjusting the Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS 
<https://limblecmms.com>) which can be used to address drought 
structurally, the reality is that there is a lot of neo-colonial control 
over those areas of the world in conditions of severe draught, and a 
load of white, western institutions making money over the death and 
hardships of dark-skinned bodies 
So of course, it is not surprising to see white South Africans 
asking that Coca-Cola be put in charge of its water supplies!

Skip over the Indian Ocean to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu 
and a similar story has erupted in recent years. Indians have been 
protesting the condition of drought that has been pushed to the hilt by 
Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola depleting local water resources.  Amit 
Srivastava, director of India Resource Centre, an ecological NGO, 
estimates that it takes 1.9 liters of water to make one small bottle of 
Coca-Cola only if you don’t factor in the use of sugar. Sugarcane uses a 
lot of water to cultivate for which Coca-Cola is the number one 
purchaser of sugarcane and Pepsi-Cola number three. If you account for 
the water used to create all ingredients in Pepsi-Cola or Coca-Cola, 
then it actually takes 400 liters of water to make a bottle of cola.

The move against fizzy drinks in Tamil Nadu gained momentum in March, 
2017 when the High Court rejected 
<http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-03/02/c_136097143.htm> rejected 
the request by petition to ban the use of water from the Thamirabarani 
River used to produced Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.  This effectively has 
nullified a previous injunction passed by a court in November, 2016.  
Petitioners have argued that thousands of farmers in Tamil Nadu have 
been suffering from water shortage and drought 
while both companies freely used the river water for their commercial 
gains. Coincidental to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Spring of 
2017 was another ban on /jallikattu/, a local form of bullfighting, 
pronounced in January 2017. The momentum from these two court decisions 
resulted in a reinvigorated mass protest 
against both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.  And in the state of Kerala in 
March 2017, retailers voted to ban 
the sale of sodas.

In 1999, Coca-Cola established a bottling plant in the village of 
Kaladera in Rajasthan, a desert state where farmers rely on groundwater 
for the cultivation of their crops.  Since this time, these farmers have 
been confronted with a steep decline in water levels whereby the 
irrigation of land and the sustenance of crops is nearly impossible. 
Official documents 
from the government’s water ministry show that water levels remained 
stable from 1995 until 2000:  “According to data compiled by the 
Rajasthan Groundwater department, in the 16 years from 1984 the 
groundwater levels at Kaladera dropped from 13 to 42 feet, at an average 
annual rate of 1.81 feet. But from 2000 to 2011, the drop was sharp from 
42 to 131 feet at the rate of 8.9 feet a year.”

India and South Africa are not alone in this usurpation of public 
resources for the private sector. In San Felipe Ecatepec in the state of 
Chiapas, a Coca-Cola factory run by FEMSA is draining wells which forces 
local residents to buy bottled water.  It is reported that this bottling 
more than a million liters of water a day.” FEMSA  claims to be  
“committed to the sustainable development of its associates, communities 
and the environment,” but little action is seen to demonstrate this.  
And in Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, and Mexico, PepsiCo faces similar 
problems with criticism for depleting water resources in these areas. 
Both Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola seek out the clean image it needs to win 
over public opinion, much most of their claims are theatre.  While 
Coca-Cola claims to replenish the water 
it removes from the ground, the fact is that the water is never replaced 
at the source of its original removal. And as much as these companies 
try to rebrand and “green up” their image 
you will never win over a population whose water you steal while selling 
the public their own water back to them.  For instance, Ethiopia’s East 
African Bottling Company has introduced Dasani 
to its market which is more rinse and repeat of the same old for 
Africans:  Coca Cola owns Dasani.

In 2017, 81 million people 
<http://www.care.org/emergencies/global-hunger-crisis> in the world 
experienced severe food insecurity 
<http://www.who.int/emergencies/famine/en/> or shortage. Approximately 
80 percent of those affected live in Africa.  The reality of food and 
water shortage is one that can be addressed and rectified, but we can do 
neither if our societies do not recognize the need to understand how the 
privatization and abuse by corporations of public resources is adding to 
or creating conditions of drought. The human contributions leading to 
the credible risk of famine and thirst experienced in countries such as 
Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, and South Sudan, though more 
pronounced, are emblematic as to what is happening in South Africa, 
India, Mexico and beyond.

There is a corporate takeover of public resources 
and we need to support a Global Water Convention now such as the 
proposed model, /The Treaty Initiative: To Share and Protect the Global 
Water Commons/ 
/penned by Maude Barlow and Jeremy Rifkin that lays out what we must do 
to secure the right of access to water.  There are also others proposals 
for a Global Water Convention 
similar to the model suggested by Barlow and Clarke in their 2002 
/Nation/ article <https://www.thenation.com/article/who-owns-water/>.  
Still, so many people around the planet have not mobilized towards a 
legal decree obligating the sharing of water resources and the end to 
corporate encroachment upon public resources. As water is the 21st 
century’s most precious commodity, we need to act quickly to ensure that 
the limited resource of water does not translate to the limited resource 
of life.

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