Our New Resource Crisis

by Peter Phillips

Sonoma County Peace Press, April / May 2001


Imagine that we are beyond the energy crisis, in that we are used to paying double or triple prices for what in the previous century was a small part of the family budget. Now we are faced with a new shortage that taps another precious resource. Water only comes through the tap fours hours a day and we are forced to pay ten to hundred times what we paid in the 90s.

Welcome to the world of privatized water, where fresh water is treated like a commodity, traded and sold in the international market to the highest bidder. No longer can you assume a God-given right to drink from a mountain spring. Instead you will have to pay a toll to drink from Enron Springs, Monsanto Wells or receive tap water from Bechtel Water Works.

Global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth. According to the United Nations, more than one billion people already lack access to fresh drinking water. If current trends persist, by 2025 the demand for fresh water is expected to rise by 56 percent more than the amount of water that is currently available.

Multinational corporations recognize these trends and are trying to monopolize water supplies around the world. Monsanto, Bechtel, Enron and other global multinationals are seeking control of world water systems and supplies.

The World Bank recently adopted a policy of water privatization and full-cost water pricing. This policy is causing great distress in many Third World countries, which fear that their citizens will not be able to afford for-profit water.

Last year in a little known case of high scale international water marketing, a supertanker was reported to have filled up with water from Lake Erie and, after paying the Canadian Government, shipped the water to Southeast Asia.

Governments are signing away their control over domestic water supplies by participating in trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and in institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). These agreements give transnational corporations the unprecedented right to the water of signatory companies.

Monsanto plans to earn revenues of $420 million and a net income of $63 million by 2008 from its water business in India and Mexico. Monsanto estimates that water will become a multi-billion dollar market in the coming decades.

Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, Canada's largest public advocacy group, states, "Governments around the world must act now to declare water a fundamental human right and prevent efforts to privatize, export, and sell for profit a substance essential to all life. Research has shown that selling water on the open market only delivers it to wealthy cities and individuals. The finite sources of freshwater (less than one half of one per cent of the world's total water stock) are being diverted, depleted, and polluted so fast that, by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world's population will be living in a state of serious water deprivation."

This international water crisis news story was selected by over 150 faculty and student researchers at Sonoma State University's Project Censored in California as the number one most censored news story for 2000.

Credit for original reporting goes to: International Forum on Globalization: Special Report 6/99, The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World's Water Supply by Maude Barlow www.ifg.org/bgsummary.html

THIS, July/August 2000, Just Add Water by Jim Shultz

In These Times, Water Fallout: Bolivians Battle Globalization 5/15/00 by Jim Shultz www.inthesetimes.com

Canadian Dimension, 212000, Monsanto's Billion-Dollar Water Monopoly Plans by Vandana Shiva www.purefood.org/Monsanto/waterfish.cfm

Canadian Dimension,2/00, Water Fallout, by Jim Shultz

San Francisco Bay Guardian,5/31/00, Trouble on Tap, by Daniel Zoll www.sfbg.com/News/34/35/ bech2.html

San Francisco Bay Guardian, 5/31/00, The Earth Wrecker, by Pratap Chatterjee


Peler Phillips is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored. Research for this story is from the book Censored 2001 - 25th Anniversary Edition, scheduled for release in March of this year from Seven Stories Press.

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