Putting a Price on Water
By Sehba Imtiaz

December 22, 2007
Water is a necessity of life. We need it to survive, and yet, many of us don’t have it. Because of the growing world population, we are resulting in an increased shortage of water supply. According to recent estimates, 400 million people around the world are already chronically dehydrated. Since our bodies are 70% water as well, we need water to digest properly and for circulation, nutrient absorption, waste elimination, and flexibility of the blood vessels. There is no substitute for water in providing the body. Many people die because of severe dehydration. Two-thirds of the earth is all water, however, an estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water; 2.4 billion people worldwide (mostly in Africa and Asia) lack access to sanitation. Countless number of people have acquired diseases because of the lack of sanitation; many don’t have access to sanitation because the governments have cut off the water supply, while one-third of the world’s population (about 2 billion people) are dependent on groundwater resources. Groundwater is when rain seeps into the ground, and when plants do not use some of the water it moves in deeper and fills up the cracks or empty spaces. But many countries around the world, including India, China, West Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, the former Soviet Union, and the western United States face rapidly depleting groundwater resources. About 40% of the world’s population, 80 countries had already experienced water shortages by the mid 1990s. Water stress, one-third of the global population lives in countries with moderate-to-high water stress, occurs when water consumption exceeds 10% of renewable freshwater resources. West Asia faces the greatest threat as 90% of the population in the region lives under severe water stress. Two-thirds is the proportion of the global population that is expected to be living in water stressed condition in less than 25 years. Forty per cent is the increase in global water use expected by the year 2020. 30 billion dollars is the projected cost per year of bringing poor people universal access to water by 2015.
But this is just the beginning. By the year 2025, two-thirds of the world will be water poor. Why? Because for the past ten years, three giant global corporations have quietly assumed control over the water. These top three water industries are Vivendi and Suez, both of France, and Thames Water of England, owned by the German corporation of RWE. These three industries have supplies water to almost 300 million people in every continent of the world. Fortune magazine states that water privatization is the world’s greatest business opportunity. Water is to the 21st century as oil was to the 20th. Water should be free, not private. It is a necessity, not a privilege. To put a price on water would be to put a price on the air we breathe. Water belongs to everyone, and yet it should belong to no one. And even if you switch from Coke to Pepsi, you can’t switch from water to anything. But a lot of this is political. The government says that you pay for electricity so you should pay for water. The municipalities do the dirty work: brow-beating people into paying their bills, cutting of their services and kicking them out of their homes, because no private company is interested in going in and taking a service in which only 50 per cent of the people are paying for what they receive. And when you cut off the supply, people get angry and illegally connect water and electricity lines. The water companies aren’t happy, and the people aren’t happy, as Olin Naidoo, an activist in South Africa, says, “If nothing else, people need water.”

For more information, visit CBC’s Water for Profit and www.water.org .


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