excerpted from the book
by Vandana Shiva
South End Press, 2002
Destruction of water resources and of forest catchments and aquifers
is a form of terrorism. Denying poor people access to water by
privatizing water distribution or polluting wells and rivers is
also terrorism. In the ecological context of water wars, terrorists
are not just those hiding in the caves of Afghanistan. Some are
hiding in corporate boardrooms and behind the free trade rules
of the WTO, North American Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), and Free
Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). They are hiding behind the
privatization conditionalities of the IMF and World Bank. By refusing
to sign the (Kyoto protocol, President Bush is committing an act
of ecological terrorism on numerous communities who may very well
be wiped off the earth by global warming. In Seattle, the WTO
was dubbed the "World Terrorist Organization" by protestors
because its rules are denying millions the right to a sustainable
Greed and appropriation of other people's share of the planet's
precious resources are at the root of conflicts, and the root
of terrorism. When President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair
announced that the goal of the global war on terrorism is the
defense of the American and European "way of life,"
they are declaring a war against the planet-its oil, its water,
its biodiversity. A way of life for the 20 percent of the earth's
people ~ who use 80 percent of the planet's resources will dispossess
80 percent of its people of their just share of resources and
eventually destroy the planet. We cannot survive as a species
if greed is privileged and protected and the economics of the
greedy set the rules for how we live and die.
The ecology of terror shows us the path to peace. Peace lies
in nourishing ecological and economic democracy and nurturing
diversity. Democracy is not merely an electoral ritual but the
power of people to shape their destiny, determine how their natural
resources are owned and utilized, how their thirst is quenched,
how their food is produced and distributed, and what health and
education systems they have.
Although two - thirds of our planet is water, we face an acute
water shortage. The water crisis is the most pervasive, most severe,
and most invisible dimension of the ecological devastation of
the earth. In 1998, 28 countries experienced water stress or scarcity.
This number is expected to rise to 56 by 2025. Between 1990 and
2025 the number of people living in countries without adequate
water is projected to rise from 131 million to 817 million. India
is supposed to fall into the water stress category long before
A country is said to be facing a serious water crisis when
available water is lower than 1,000 cubic meters per person per
year. Below this point, the health and economic development of
a nation are considerably hampered. When the annual water availability
per person drops below 500 cubic meters, people's survival is
grievously compromised. In 1951, the average water availability
in India was 3,450 cubic meters per person per year. By the late
1990s, it had fallen to 1,250 cubic meters. By 2050, it is projected
to fall to 760 cubic meters. Since 1970, the global per capita
water supply has declined by 33 percent. The decline does not
result from population growth alone; it is exacerbated by excessive
water use as well. During the last century, the rate of water
withdrawal has exceeded that of population growth by a factor
of two and one-half.
Market assumptions are blind to the ecological limits set by the
water cycle and the economic limits set by poverty. Over-exploitation
of water and disruption of the water cycle create absolute scarcity
that markets cannot substitute with other commodities. The assumption
of substitution is in fact central to logic of commodification.
For example, economist Jack Hirshleifer and his colleagues state:
This is not to deny that as a commodity, water has its special
features, for example, its supply is provided by nature partly
as a store and partly as a flow, and it is available without cost
in some locations but rather expensive to transport to others.
Whatever reason we cite, however, the alleged unique importance
of water disappears upon analysis.
Such abstract arguments miss the most crucial point - when
water disappears, there is no alternative. For Third World women,
water scarcity means traveling longer distances in search of water.
For peasants, it means starvation and destitution as drought wipes
out their crops. For children, it means dehydration and death.
There is simply no substitute for this precious liquid, necessary
for the biological survival of animals and plants.
The water crisis is an ecological crisis with commercial causes
but no market solutions. Market solutions destroy the earth and
aggravate inequality. The solution to an ecological crisis is
ecological, and the solution for injustice is democracy. Ending
the water crisis requires rejuvenating ecological democracy.
With globalization and privatization of water resources, new efforts
to completely erode people's rights and replace collective ownership
with corporate control are under way. That communities of real
people with real needs exist beyond the state and the market is
often forgotten in the rush for privatization.
As natural rights, water rights are usufructuary rights; water
can be used but not owned. People have a right to life and the
resources that sustain it, such as water. The necessity of water
to life is why, under customary laws, the right to water has been
accepted as a natural, social fact.
Parading as the anonymous market, the rich and powerful use the
state to appropriate water from nature and people through the
prior-appropriation doctrine. Private interest groups systematically
ignore the option of community control over water. Because water
falls on earth in a dispersed manner, because every living being
needs water, decentralized management and democratic ownership
are the only efficient, sustainable, and equitable systems for
the sustenance of all. Beyond the state and the market lies the
power of community participation. Beyond bureaucracies and corporate
power lies the promise of water democracy.
... Water is a commons because it is the ecological basis
of all life and because its sustainability and equitable allocation
depend on cooperation among community members. Although water
has been managed as a commons throughout human history and across
diverse cultures, and although most communities manage water resources
as common property or have access to water as a commonly shared
public good even today, privatization of water resources is gaining
John Locke's treatise on property effectively legitimized the
theft of the commons in Europe during the enclosure movements
of the 17th century. Locke, son of wealthy parents, sought to
defend capitalism-and his family's massive wealth-by arguing that
property was created only when idle natural resources were transformed
from their spiritual form through the application of labor: "Whatsoever,
then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and
left in it, he hath mixed his labor with it, and joined to it
something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property."
Individual freedom was dependent upon the freedom to own, through
labor, the land, forests, and rivers. Locke's treatises on property
continue to inform theories and practices that erode the commons
and destroy the earth.
Modern industrial papermaking and leather processing create massive
pollution. Pulp uses 60,000 to 190,000 gallons of water per ton
of paper or rayon. Bleaching uses 48,000 to 72,000 gallons of
water per ton of cotton. Packaging green beans and peaches for
long-distance trade can use up to 17,000 and 9 4,800 gallons per
The overuse and pollution of scarce water resources is not
restricted to old industrial technologies; it is a hidden component
of the new computer technologies. A study by South West Network
for Environmental and Economic Justice and the Campaign for Responsible
Technology reveals that the process of chip manufacturing requires
excessive amounts of water.
On average, processing a single six-inch silicon wafer uses
2,275 gallons of de-ionized water, 3,200 cubic feet of bulk gases,
22 cubic feet of hazardous gases, 20 pounds of chemicals, and
285 kilowatts hours of electrical power. In other words, if an
average plant processes 2,000 wafers per week (the new state-of-the-art
Intel facility in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, for example, can produce
5,000 wafers per week) it would need 4,550,000 gallons of water
per week and 236,600,000 gallons ~ per year for wafer production
The study finds that out of the 29 Superfund sites in Santa
Clara County, California, 20 were created by the computer industry.
The Principles of Water Democracy
At the core of the market solution to pollution is the assumption
that water exists in unlimited supply. The idea that markets can
mitigate pollution by facilitating increased allocation fails
to recognize that water diversion to one area comes at the cost
of water scarcity elsewhere.
In contrast to the corporate theorists who promote market
solutions to pollution, grassroots organizations call for political
and ecological solutions. Communities fighting high-tech industrial
pollution have proposed the Community Environmental Bill of Rights,
which includes rights to clean industry; to safety from harmful
exposure; to prevention; to knowledge; to participation; to protection
and enforcement; to compensation; and to cleanup. All of these
rights are basic elements of a water democracy in which the right
to clean water is protected for all citizens. Markets can guarantee
none of these rights.
There are nine principles underpinning water democracy:
1. Water is nature's gift
We receive water freely from nature. We owe it to nature to
use this gift in accordance with our sustenance needs, to keep
it clean and in adequate quantity. Diversions that create arid
or waterlogged regions violate the principles of ecological democracy.
2. Water is essential to life
Water is the source of life for all species. All species and
ecosystems have a right to their share of water on the planet.
3. Life is interconnected through water
Water connects all beings and all parts of the planet through
the water cycle. We all have a duty to ensure that our actions
do not cause harm to other species and other people.
4. Water must be free for sustenance needs
Since nature gives water to us free of cost, buying and selling
it for profit violates our inherent right to nature's gift and
denies the poor of their human rights.
Water is limited and exhaustible if used nonsustainably. Nonsustainable
use includes extracting more water from ecosystems than nature
can recharge (ecological nonsustainability) and consuming more
than one's legitimate share, given the rights of others to a fair
share (social nonsustainability).
6. Water must be conserved
Everyone has a duty to conserve water and use water sustainably,
within ecological and just limits.
7. Water is a commons
Water is not a human invention. It cannot be bound and has
no boundaries. It is by nature a commons. It cannot be owned as
private property and sold as a commodity.
8. No one holds a right to destroy
No one has a right to overuse, abuse, waste, or pollute water
systems. Tradable-pollution permits violate the principle of sustainable
and just use.
9. Water cannot be substituted
Water is intrinsically different from other resources and
products. It cannot be treated as a commodity.
The United States ... produces 25 percent of the world's greenhouse
gases, more than any other nation, has officially announced that
it will make no cutbacks.
John Widtsoe, an irrigation scientist with the Bureau of Reclamation:
The destiny of man is to possess the whole earth; and the
destiny of the earth is to be subject to man. There can be no
full conquest of the earth, and no real satisfaction to humanity,
if large portions of the earth remain beyond his highest control.
Only as all parts of the earth are developed according to the
best existing knowledge, and brought under human control, can
man be said to possess the earth. The United States ... might
accommodate its present population within its humid region, but
it would not then be the great nation that it now is.
By the late 1890s, Los Angeles had already tapped its local supplies
and city officials were secretly purchasing land and water rights
in neighboring Owens Valley. In 1907, bonds were issued to finance
a 238-mile aqueduct that would divert the eastern runoff of the
Sierra Madre. This clandestine agreement to transfer water from
the farms to the city led to intense conflict between Owens Valley
residents and Los Angeles water users. "Non-local residents
were equipped with private and public investment and backed by
the might of the army. In 1924, Owens Valley residents blasted
an aqueduct to prevent water diversion to Los Angeles." The
water war had begun.
After 12 more blasts, armed guards were stationed on the aqueduct
with orders to kill. In 1926, the Saint Francis Dam was built,
but it broke soon after, killing 400 people. During the' drought
of 1929, groundwater pumping began but quickly dried up the 75-square
mile Owens Lake. New scarcity had bred new conflicts. In 1976,
the aqueduct was bombed again.'
Irrigation in the western United States was spurred by the
need to provide food for gold-rush miners. By 1890, 3.7 million
acres of land were irrigated. But by 1900, many water companies
were facing bankruptcy, and public agencies were providing support
to private developers. Water projects continued to be driven by
the private sector but financed by public investments.
The Hoover Dam on the Colorado River was commissioned by the
Bureau of Reclamation during the Great Depression and was completed
in 1935. The 726-foot-high dam used 66 million tons of concrete-enough
to build a 16-foot-wide highway from New York to San Francisco.
The reservoir, Lake Mead, could hold the river's entire flow for
The dam marked the beginning of the large dam era and the
partnership between government and corporations in control over
water. Six companies-Henry Kaiser, Bechtel, Morrison-Knudson,
Utah Construction, MacDonald Kahn, J. F. Shea, and Pacific Bridge-were
awarded the bid for the dam. The Colorado River Compact, which
approved the dam, excluded local governments and communities from
the negotiations and decisions. Native Americans, who had been
living in the Colorado River basin for centuries, were completely
shut out of the decision to dam the river. As historian Donald
Worster observes, "No one asked [Native Americans] to participate
in the Colorado Compact negotiations, and the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, supposedly their guardian angel, failed to look out for
their interests there." Arizona, which considered the dam
a theft of the state's natural resources, refused to ratify the
To this day, the primary beneficiary of the Hoover Dam has
been California. In fact, the state leads the world in water consumption.
Water from the Hoover Dam is transferred to California through
a 242-mile aqueduct from the Colorado River, and nearly a third
of the hydropower generated by the dam is used to pump water to
the state. Although it accounts for a mere 1.6 percent of the
243,000-square-mile Colorado basin, California uses one-fourth
of its water. Much of this goes to big farms.
Large water-diversion projects are said to augment water.
In reality, they take water from one community to another and
from one ecosystem to another. The expansion of irrigated agriculture
in the and American west has come at the cost of agriculture in
the eastern and southern parts of the country. Although cotton
cultivation on lands irrigated by the Bureau of Reclamation increased
by 300 percent in the west, it dropped by 30 percent in the south.
In the north, fruit and nut cultivation declined by 50 percent,
while it grew by 237 percent in the west; land devoted to bran
cultivation fell by 449,000 acres across the United States, but
doubled in the west; rice cultivation was abandoned in wet Louisiana
while it expanded in the arid west.
In the Americas, conflict between the Unites States and Mexico
over Colorado River waters has intensified in recent years. In
1944, a treaty allocated a 1.5 acre-foot of Colorado River water
to Mexico. In 1961, Mexico protested that water flowing from the
United States was heavily salinated by dams at Glen Canyon, Lake
Mojave, and Lake Havasu as well as the Hoover Dam.;9 In 1974,
the United States built a plant to desalinate the Colorado River
water before it entered Mexico. The total cost to build the project
was $1 billion. Irrigation water provided for $350 per acre-foot
in the United States cost $300 per acre-foot for desalination
Large dam-related conflicts are not restricted to states-they
also involve wars between nations. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers,
the major water bodies sustaining agriculture for thousands of
years in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, have led to several major clashes
among the three countries. Both rivers originate in Eastern Anatolia,
Turkey, and the country holds absolute sovereignty over water
in its territory. Turkey's position is "The water is as much
ours as Iraq's oil is Iraq's." On the other hand, to assert
its historical rights, Iraq invokes the "prior use"
doctrine, which bases water rights on the cowboy logic of "first
in time, first in right" and traces the use of the rivers
to the people of Mesopotamia 6,000 years ago. In recent years,
conflicts have been triggered by increased water demands for industrialization...
The conflict between Iraq and Turkey is expected to intensify
as Turkey attempts to move with its $32 billion plan to build
22 dams on the Euphrates for the irrigation of 1.7 million hectares
of land. When the two dams operate along with the Ataturk Dam,
Iraq would lose 80 to 90 percent of its allotment of Euphrates
The war between Israelis and Palestinians is to a some extent
a war over water. The river under contention is the Jordan River,
used by Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank. Israel's
extensive industrial agriculture requires the river's water as
well as the groundwater of the West Bank. While only 3 percent
of the Jordan basin lies in Israel, the river provides for 60
percent of its water needs.
Israel's very formation was based on ensuring access to water.
"It is necessary that the water sources, upon which the future
of the Land depends, should not be outside the borders of the
future Jewish homeland," wrote Israel's former prime minister
David Ben-Gurion in 1973. "For this reason we have always
demanded that the Land of Israel include the southern banks of
the Litani River, the headwaters of the Jordan, and the Hauran
Region from the El Auja spring south of Damascus."
Water conflicts began in 1948, when Israel undertook the National
Water Carrier Project, which involved a gigantic water pipeline
extending from the Jordan River to the Negev Desert to irrigate
crops. This project led to a dispute with Syria. In 1953, United
States envoy Eric Johnston initiated the Unified Development of
Water Resources plan to resolve conflicts between Israel, Syria,
and Jordan. Syria rejected the plan, and since then, Israel-Syria
border conflicts have been closely connected to river diversions
by Israel. Former Israeli prime minister Levy Eshkol declared
in 1962 that "water is the blood in our veins" and that
being prevented from accessing it would be cause for war.
Between 1987 and 1988, Israel used 67 percent of its water
for agriculture and allocated the rest for domestic and industrial
purposes. Although Israel's agricultural water consumption had
been reduced to 62 percent by 1992, it remained the leading sector
for water use. In 2000, 50 percent of the total cultivated area
in Israel was irrigated; in contrast, Palestinian villages consumed
only two percent of Israel's water. The water apartheid, demarcated
along ethnic and religious lines, is fueling the already heated
The 1967 war, which led to the Israeli occupation of the West
Bank and the Golan Heights, was in effect an occupation of the
freshwater resources from the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee,
the Jordan River, and the West Bank. As Middle-Eastern scholar
Ewan Anderson, notes, "The West Bank has become a critical
source of water for Israel, and it could be argued that this consideration
outweighs other political and strategic factors."
Between 1967 and 1982, West Bank waters were controlled by
the military. Now they are controlled by Israel's water company,
Mekorot, and integrated into Israel's overall water network. West
Bank waters supply 25 to 40 percent of Israel's water; Israel
consumes 82 percent of the West Bank's water, while Palestinians
use 18 to 20 percent. Palestinian water use is controlled and
restricted by the Israeli government. A 1967 military order decreed:
No person is allowed to establish or own or administer a
water institution (any construction that is used to extract either
surface or subterranean water resources or a processing plant)
without a new official permit. It is permissible to deny an applicant
a permit, revoke or amend a license, without giving any explanation.
The appropriate authorities may search and confiscate any water
resources for which no permit exists, even if the owner has not
In 1999, Palestinians were allowed to dig only seven wells.
In addition, Palestinian wells could not exceed 140 meters in
depth, while Jewish wells could be as deep as 800 meters.
As drought and overuse aggravate the water scarcity, water
conflicts are bound to intensify. The water level of the Sea of
Galilee is at a 100-year low; since 1993, it has fallen 13 feet.
Because of drought, Israel had to reduce its water use in agriculture
by 10 percent in 1999. It is predicted that Israel will have to
cut water use further, cease its cultivation of cotton and oranges,
and shift drought-resistant crops.
The Nile is the longest river in the world and is shared by 10
African countries, including Ethiopia, the Sudan, Egypt, Uganda,
Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo,
and Eritrea. It is also another complicated site of water conflict.
In 1990, the total population of the Nile basin countries was
estimated at 245 million and projected to reach 859 million by
2025. Ethiopia contributes 86 percent of the total annual flow
of the Nile, while the remaining 14 percent comes from Kenya,
Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and
Neither international nor national water laws adequately respond
to the ecological and political challenges posed by water conflicts.
No legal document in contemporary Iaw mentions the most basic
law related to water-the natural law of the water cycle. Claims
are derived from and protection is limited to artificial concrete
structures. This limitation has propelled regions and states to
enter a contest for the most extravagant water projects as a means
of establishing their rights to water-the more you extract and
divert water through giant projects, the more you can claim rights.
Water conflicts continue to escalate and, to date, no appropriate
legal framework exists to resolve these conflicts.
Giant water projects, in most cases, benefit the powerful and
dispossess the weak. Even when such projects are publicly funded,
their beneficiaries are mainly construction companies, industries,
and commercial farmers. While privatization is generally couched
in rhetoric about the disappearing role of the state, what we
actually see is increased state intervention in water policy,
subverting community control over water resources. Policies imposed
by the World Bank, and trade liberalization rules crafted by the
World Trade Organization (WTO), are creating a sweeping culture
of corporate-states all over the world.
Not only has the World Bank played a major role in the creation
of water scarcity and pollution, it is now transforming that scarcity
into a market opportunity for water corporations. The World Bank
currently has outstanding commitments of about $20 billion in
water projects, $4.8 billion of which are for urban water and
sanitation, $1.7 billion for rural water schemes, $5.4 billion
for irrigation, $1.7 billion for hydropower, and $3 billion for
water-related environmental projects. South Asia receives 20 percent
of World Bank water loans.
The Bank estimates the potential water market at $1 trillion.
After the collapse of the technology stocks, Fortune magazine
identified the water business as the most profitable industry
for investors. Large corporations, such as the biotech giant Monsanto,
covet this lucrative market. Monsanto is currently plotting its
entry into the water business and is anxiously eyeing the funding
available from development agencies ...
The World Bank's use of loan conditions to privatize and trade
water suits Monsanto well, and the two have already begun to talk
of collaboration. Monsanto is "particularly enthusiastic
about the potential of partnering with the International Finance
Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank" and expects the IFC
to "bring both investment capital and on-the-ground capabilities
to our efforts." For the company, sustainable development
is the version of an ecological crisis into a market of scarce
The erosion of water rights is now a global phenomenon. Since
the early 1990s, ambitious, World Bank-driven privatization programs
have emerged in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Malaysia, and Nigeria.
The Bank has also introduced privatization of water systems in
India. In Chile, it has imposed a loan condition to guarantee
a 33 percent profit margin to the French company Suez Lyonnaise
Not only does privatization affect people's democratic right
to water, it also affects the livelihoods and employment rights
of those who work in municipalities and local water and sanitation
systems. Public systems worldwide employ five to ten employees
per 1,000 water connections, while private companies employ two
to three employees per 1,000 water connections. In most Indian
cities, municipal employees have resisted privatization of water
and sanitation services.
Privatization arguments have been based largely on the poor
performance of public-sector utilities. Government employees are
seen as excess staff, responsible for the low productivity of
public water agencies. The fact that poor public-sector performance
is most often due to the utilities' lack of accountability is
hardly taken into account. As it turns out, there is no indication
that private companies are any more accountable. In fact, the
opposite tends to be the case. While privatization does not have
a track record of success, it does have a track record of risks
and failures. Private companies most often violate operation standards
and engage in price gouging without much consequence. In Argentina,
two of the largest private French firms, Lyonnaise des Eaux and
Compagnie Generale des Eaux, two of the largest private British
firms, Thames Water and Northwest Water, and the largest public
Spanish firm, Canal Isabel II, formed a consortium to bid for
a World Bank-financed water privatization project. Employees at
the public-sector utility provider Obras Sanitarias de la Nacion
(OSN) in Buenos Aires were reduced from 7,G00 to 4,000 in 1993.
The unemployment of 3,600 workers has been touted as the most
important achievement and indicator of success. While employment
in water services went down, the price of water went up. Within
the first year, water rates increased by 13.5 percent.
In Chile, Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux insisted on a 35 percent
profit. In Casablanca, consumers saw the price of water increase
threefold. In Britain, water and sewage bills increased 67 percent
between 1989-90 and 1994-95. The rate at which people's services
were disconnected rose by 177 percent. In New Zealand, citizens
took to the streets to protest the commercialization of water.
In South Africa, Johannesburg's water supply was overtaken by
Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux. Water soon became unsafe, inaccessible,
and unaffordable. Thousands of people were disconnected and cholera
infections became rampant.
Despite its unpopularity among local residents worldwide,
the rush to privatize water continues unabated. Encumbered by
exorbitant debts, countries around the world are forced to privatize
water. It is common for the World Bank and IMF to demand water
deregulation as part of their lending conditions. Out of the 40
IMF loans disbursed through the International Finance Corporation
in 2000,12 had requirements for partial or full privatization
of water supply and insisted on policy creation to stimulate "full
cost recovery" and eliminate subsidies. In order to qualify
for loans, African governments increasingly succumb to water privatization
pressures. In Ghana, for instance, World Bank and IMF l policies
forcing the sale of water at market rate required the poor to
spend up to 50 percent of their earnings on water purchases.
The General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) was created
along with the World Bank and IMF to manage the global economy
in the postwar era. The 1944 Bretton Woods Conference gave shape
to these institutions and instruments. GATT was intended to become
the International Trade Organization in 1948, but the United States
blocked the move since the rules of trade favored the South. GATT
therefore continued as an agreement until 1995, when the WTO was
established on the basis of the agreements made at the Uruguay
Before 1993, GATT dealt only with trade in goods beyond national
borders. The Uruguay Round, negotiated between 1986 and 1993,
expanded the scope of trade and the power of GATT by adding rules
beyond goods and international trade. New rules were introduced
on intellectual property, agriculture, and investment. Services
were subjected to trade via the General Agreement on Trade in
Services (GATS). By the time the WTO formed in 1995, the stage
had been set for its unregulated power to override domestic policies
and hijack common resources.
While the World Bank is promoting privatization of water through
structural adjustment programs and conditions, the WTO is instituting
water privatization via free-trade rules embodied in GATS. GATS
promotes free-trade in services, including water, food, environment,
health, education, research, communication, and transport. The
WTO markets GATS as a "bottom up" treaty, citing the
freedom of countries to liberalize trade progressively and to
deregulate different sectors incrementally. In reality, GATS is
a treaty with no reverence for or accountability to national democratic
processes. In many cases, governments do not have the liberty
to use cultural issues and resources in their WTO negotiations.
... GATS is a tool to reverse the democratic decentralization
to which diverse societies have been aspiring. GATS can challenge
measures taken by central, regional, or local governments as well
as nongovernmental bodies. Its rules are shaped entirely by corporations
without any input from NGOs, local governments, or national governments.
Water has become big business for global corporations, which see
limitless markets in growing water scarcity and demand. The two
major players in the water industry are the French companies Vivendi
Environment and Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, whose empires extend
to 120 countries. Vivendi is the water giant, with a turnover
of $17.1 billion. Suez had a turnover of $5.1 billion in 1996.
Vivendi Environment is the "environmental services"
arm of Vivendi Universal, a global media and communications conglomerate
involved in television, film, publishing, music, the Internet,
The privatization of water services is the first step toward the
privatization of all aspects of water. The American water market
for water supply and treatment, estimated at $90 billion, is the
largest in the world, and Vivendi is investing heavily in order
to dominate it. In March 1999, the company purchased US Filter
Corporation for more than $6 billion and formed the largest water
corporation in North America. Vivendi's projected revenue is $
Once the water giants enter the picture, water prices go up.
In Subic Bay, the Philippines, Biwater increased water rates by
400 percent. In France, customer fees increased 150 percent but
water quality deteriorated; a French government report revealed
that more than 5.2 million people received "bacterially unacceptable
water." In England, water rates increased by 450 percent
and company profits soared by 692 percent-CEO salaries increased
by an astonishing 708 percent. Service disconnection increased
by 50 percent. Meanwhile, dysentery increased six-fold and the
British Medical Association condemned water privatization for
its health effects.
In 1998, shortly after Sydney's water was overtaken by Suez
Lyonnaise des Eaux, it was contaminated with high levels of giardia
and cryptos poridiom. After water testing had been privatized
by A&L Labs, in Walkerton, Ontario, seven people, including
a baby, died as a result of E. coli. The company treated the test
results as "confidential intellectual property" and
did not make them public, just as Union Carbide withheld information
about the leaked chemicals in its Bhopal, India, plant while thousands
were dying. In Argentina, when a Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux subsidiary
purchased the state-run water company Obras Sanitarias de la Nacion,
water rates doubled but water quality degenerated. The company
was forced to leave the country when residents refused to pay
The Great Thirst
In the maquiladoras of Mexico, drinking-water is so scarce
that babies and children drink Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Coca-Cola's
products sell in 195 countries, generating a revenue of $16 billion.
Water scarcity is clearly a source of corporate profits. In an
annual report, Coca-Cola proclaims:
All of us in the Coca-Cola family wake up each morning knowing
that every single one of the world's 5.6 billion people will get
thirsty that day. If we make it impossible for these 5.6 billion
people to escape Coca-Cola, then we assure our future success
for many years to come. Doing anything else is not an option.
Companies like Coca-Cola are fully aware that water is the
real thirst quencher and are jumping into the bottled water business.
Coca-Cola has launched its international label Bon Aqua (Dasani
is the American version), and Pepsi has introduced Aquafina. In
India, Coca-Cola's water line is called Kinley. In addition to
Coca-Cola and Pepsi, there are several other well-known brands
such as Perrier, Evian, Naya, Poland Spring, Clearly Canadian,
and Purely Alaskan.
In March 1999, in a study of 103 brands of bottled water,
the Natural Resources Defense Council found that bottled water
was no more safe than tap water. A third of the brands contained
arsenic and E. coli and a fourth merely bottled tap water. In
India, a study conducted by the Ahmedabad-based Consumer Education
and Research Center discovered that only three out the 13 known
brands conformed to all bottling specifications. None of the brands
was free of bacteria, even though some claimed to be germ-free
and 100 percent bacteria-free. Such false and misleading advertising
has forced the Indian government to amend its Prevention of Food
Adulteration rules to include bottled water. It now differentiates
between mineral water obtained from and packaged close to a natural
source and treated drinking water.
... The consequences of bottled water extend beyond price
hikes and unsafe water. Environmental waste is a major cost incurred
by the bottling industry. In the 1970s, 300 million gallons of
bottled water were sold in non-renewable plastic water consumers.
Perhaps the most famous tale of corporate greed over water is
the story of Cochabamba, Bolivia. In this semidesert region, water
~s scarce and precious. In 1999, the World Bank recommended privatization
of Cochabamba's municipal water supply company, Servicio Municipal
del Agua Potable y Alcantarillado (SENIAPA), through a concession
to International Water, a subsidiary of Bechtel. On October 1999,
the Drinking Water and Sanitation Law was passed, ending government
subsidies and allowing privatization.
In a city where the minimum wage is less than $100 a month
water bills reached $20 a month, nearly the cost of feeding a
family of five for two weeks. In January 2000, a citizens' alliance
called La Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida (The Coalition
in Defense of Water and Life) was formed. The alliance shut down
the city for four days through mass mobilization Within a month,
millions of Bolivians marched to Cochabamba held a general strike,
and stopped all transportation.;; At the gathering, the protesters
issued the Cochabamba Declaration, calling for the protection
of universal water rights.
The government promised to reverse the price hike but never
did. In February 2000, La Coordinadora organized a peaceful march
demanding the repeal of the Drinking Water and Sanitation Law,
the annulment of ordinances allowing privatization, the termination
of the water contract, and the participation of citizens in drafting
a water resource law. The citizens' demands, which drove a stake
through the heart of corporate interests, were violently rejected.
La Coordinora's fundamental critique was directed at the negation
of water as a community property. Protesters used slogans like
"Water Is God's Gift and Not A Merchandise" and "Water
In April 2000, the government tried to silence the water protests
through martial law. Activists were arrested, protesters killed,
and the media censored. Finally on April 10,2000, the people won.
Aguas del Tunari and Bechtel left Bolivia and the government was
forced to revoke its hated water privatization legislation. The
water company SEMAPA (along with its debts) was handed over to
the workers and the people. In the summer of 2000, La Coordinadora
organized public hearings to establish democratic planning and
management. The people have taken on the challenge to establish
a water democracy, but the water dictators are trying their best
to subvert the process. Bechtel is suing Bolivia, and the Bolivian
government is harassing and threatening activists of La Coordinadora.