According to the United Nations, by the year 2025, as much as two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in conditions of serious water shortage and one-third will be living in conditions of absolute water scarcity. Creating worldwide concern in the international arena, the vice-president of the World Bank has said, “the wars of the next century will be about water.”
Where most people see a humanitarian crisis requiring immediate changes in consumption patterns, conservation, environmental protections, and distribution, corporations see enormous profits. From the beginning of 1980s until 2000, there was a huge pressure from international financial institutions and multinational corporations to increase their control over water by privatizing water services; reducing the ability of governments to regulate corporate activity; and exporting water to sell for a profit.
Communities around the world are continuously fighting water privatization. For example, the case of Cochabamba in Bolivia where privatization brought a massive price hikes and the citizens pushed for the cancellation of the private company’s contract replacing it with a community-controlled water system. Another example of forced privatization is KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa where poor people that were cut off were then forced to resort to using polluted river water, resulting in an outbreak of cholera.
Today, large corporations own only 34% of the market while 90% of the 400 largest cities in the world still have a public water network. However, privatization has now taken the form of investment in hard technology and purchase of water rights. For instance, NAFTA Chapter 11 gives corporations additional rights over governments, including the right to sue a foreign government directly if they considered that their rights have been violated. As a result, there have been numerous investor-state disputes challenging important environmental, health and safety measures involving water.
Environmentalists argued that the alternative to privatization should be to exempt water from all trade agreements and to keep water and sewage services in the public sector, to regulate the protection of water supplies and to promote the efficient use of water.
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