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Water: Human Right or Tool of Power?
On March 16, the Fourth World Water Forum was held in Mexico City. Tens of thousands of people from across the world held a parallel forum outside to protest the Forum’s water policies and the high registration fee which excluded the people.
The World Water Forum is sponsored every three years by governments and big business. Coca-Cola sponsored this year’s Forum. Giant corporations, the UN, governments and the World Bank met to promote profit-oriented water policies around the world. The US, France and Germany are pushing for privatization of water.
Over 1.1 billion people around the world don’t have access to safe water to drink. The lack of clean drinking water causes diseases that kill 3.1 million people a year. The UN estimates that two out of three people will not have access to enough water by 2025. People without access to clean water are disproportionately poor. Rather than surrender to dehydration, most will drink unsafe water.
Half of Americans drink bottled water. Bottled water costs 240-10,000 times more than tap water. And over one-quarter of bottled water comes from public tap water—including Coke’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina. Coke and Pepsi are bottling tap water and selling it back to the public for more than the cost of gasoline.
In 2002, bottled water corporations spent $93.8 million advertising their products as clean and superior to tap water. But a study by the National Resource Defense Council found that various bottled water samples contained elevated levels of arsenic, bacteria and the carcinogen bromate.
Coke and Pepsi drain water from some of the poorest communities in the world to make their products. Since Coke opened its plant in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh, the water tables have dropped over 50 feet. Farmers can no longer access enough water to irrigate crops or meet their basic needs. Outside Coke’s plant in Kerala, India hundreds of wells dried up and water quality declined. People got rashes from the water. Local authorites shut the plant down. Coke used its political power to get concessions from the Kerala High Court. The community appealed to the court and anxiously awaits the ruling.
Corporations like Coke, Nestle, and Pepsi lobby the World Band and IMF to force poor countries to privatize water in exchange for loans. They also align themselves with infamous water privatization corporations: Suez, Vivendi (a French company) and the German conglomerate RWE. Suez operates in 130 countries and Vivendi in over 100. They have combined profits of $70 billion. RWE, with profits of $50 billion, recently purchased the American Water Works, this country’s largest private utility.
British TV aired a film called A World Without Water. It features four families from Bolivia, Tanzania, India and Detroit who are without water. In Detroit, 45,000 families have had their water disconnected. The grandmother in the Detroit segment of the film got a key from the hardware store and learned how to turn the water back on. In Bolivia, the government is actually encouraging people to re-connect themselves since the election of Evo Morales. Morales has vowed to nationalize Bolivia’s oil, gas and water reserves.
CPS is removing children from Detroit families that have had their water disconnected. People in Bolivia, India and Tanzania are also losing their children. In those countries children are dying because there is no water. Every day 3,900 children worldwide die because of water deprivation. The film features a Bolivian family whose child died because of disease from the poor quality of water provided by Suez.
In South Africa, people must prepay for their water meter. When they use the amount of water they paid for, they no longer have access. In other parts of the world, women walk for hours every day to carry water home. The Women’s Caucus at the World Water Forum proposed recommendations for action:
1. Recognise women as full partners in water and sanitation efforts;
2. Recognize intentional contamination or withholding of water as a crime against humanity; 3. Develop gender equity policies for institutions that deal with water; and
4. Create gender-sensitive and gender-balanced responses to water crises.
At the parallel forum, Indigenous people from Mexico, Bolivia and Chile, as well as Native Americans explained that to them, water is sacred. They prepared a 17-point declaration denouncing the World Water Forum for excluding their voices. And they declared their plan to create an Indigenous Water Defense Committee as a watchdog group.
Other activists outside the World Water Forum protested the privatization of water and called for an amendment to international law to recognize a right to water. While the right to water has been acknowledged in various covenants and UN resolutions, the US and other wealthy nations have not upheld the documents.
Women’s News, News from Indian Country,
• Up to 60% of the human body is water. Our brains are 70% water and our blood is 82% water.
• Three global corporations have privatized ownership and control of water for 300 million people in the world.
• A 1999 New York City taste test found that twice as many people preferred the taste of NYC tap water to bottled water brands.
• Bottled water is considered safer. But municipal water is subject to many more safety regulations than bottled water. About 40% of bottled water is tap water that is treated in some way by water bottlers..
• No bottled water company actually tells the consumer what is in the water or what isn’t. But every public water department is required by the EPA to report annually to their customers how their water ranks in regard to almost 100 potential contaminants.
• Bottled water is a marketers’ and advertisers’ dream. They’ve hoodwinked us into carrying around a bottle of water, irrespective of the costs and consequences.
• You may be able to afford to buy bottled “spring” water. But wild creatures who live in the fragile ecosystems in the vicinity of natural springs cannot afford to have their water pumped and piped away.
• Nestle has 75 spring sites in the US and 15 different brand names. Nestle dominates about one-third of the bottled water market amounting to $35 billion in sales.
• In Nov. 2003 Nestle was ordered by Circuit Court to shut down its Sanctuary Springs water mining.
• Nestle lost a $10 million lawsuit in Maine over falsification of its Poland Springs bottled water (which is not from a spring site).
• Nestle states on the record in court that it will not stop pumping water voluntarily if there is ecosystem impairment.
Boycott Nestle Products
Obviously this includes anything with Nestle’s name on it, such as Nestle Chocolate, Nestle’s Crunch, Nestea, Nescafe, etc.
Juicy Juice Alcon Eye Care
Stouffer’s Warner Cosmetics
Contadina Pet Food
Hills Bros. Fancy Feast
Junk Food Water Brands
Baby Ruth Aberfoyle
Kit Kat Deer Park
Goobers Great Bear
Nappa Ridge Poland Springs
There are more products, but these are the basic ones. Read the label!
Info from Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation
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