Archive for October, 2010

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Documentary Review: “The Corporation”

October 28, 2010

What do you call someone who has callous unconcern for others, an incapacity to maintain enduring relationships and feel guilt, is reckless in regarding the safety of others, and fails to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors?  Psychologists diagnose this person as a psychopath.  What if that person was the dominating institution of the world?  What implications would that have for the world and all that constitutes it?  The Corporation provides a detailed picture of one of the dominant institutions of the world and clearly describes its ascension to the top of the global order.

So, how did the corporation achieve the influence it has today?  Initially, a corporation was defined as an association of individuals chartered by states to perform a particular function, such as building a bridge or constructing a road.  Essentially, the corporation was considered a subordinate entity to the law and culture of the states and was deemed a tool that was to serve the public good.  After the civil war there was an explosion of corporate growth.  This led to corporate lawyers pushing for more power, as corporations were becoming a more substantial institution within the structure of the country.

In 1868, a constitutional amendment (14th) was passed with the purpose of granting citizenship to African Americans and prohibiting state and local governments from depriving all persons of life, liberty and property.  The law that was unquestionably of good intentions would later be interpreted by the Supreme Court as to include or cover corporations as well through its mandate.  The court argued that a corporation is a group of people and in that sense it was to be interpreted that their rights were to be protected under the stipulations of the 14th amendment.

In addition to this, it was later put into law that corporations were required to put the financial interests of their owners above other “competing interests.”  These interests included all externalities, which are the effects of transactions between two individuals (or corporations in this sense) on a third party who has not consented to, or played any role in the carrying out of that transaction.  The following paragraphs will demonstrate the consequences of the court’s decisions.

Let’s now look at the track record of how corporations have “enjoyed” the freedoms granted to them and what their relationship is with people and the environment in general.  The Corporation documents specific cases that all describe a science of exploitation enacted by transnational businesses.  One of the main areas of injustice has evolved specifically from the capitalist doctrine followed by all corporations; the doctrine of efficient cost and production.  In search of fulfilling the curriculum requirements of capitalism, corporations have spanned the world in search of cheap labor in order to produce their products at the most profitable levels possible.  So take NIKE co. as an example.  Multiple copies of internal pricing documents explaining the corporation’s production process illuminated the aforementioned “science”.  At one of its shirt production factories in the Dominican Republic, workers are allotted 6.6141 minutes (yes, they break time frames of operations down to ten one thousandths of each second) to make each shirt.  They receive an hourly wage of 70 cents per hour for their labor, or 8 cents per shirt.  Skipping the math, that means that each worker is receiving 3/10 of 1 percent of the retail price for each shirt.  This exploitation would be obvious to those in developed countries which are by law required a minimum wage that is the majority of the time over 7 dollars per hour.  However, in developing countries, this rate is unheard of.  In fact, in many countries a considerable amount of the population lives on less than 2 dollars per day.  Consequently, corporations walk in advertising cents on the hour wages and are seen as an opportunity to the poor.  After different human rights groups and worker unions provide enough pressure on governments and corporations, causing wages to rise past what is considered an efficient cost level in the production process, corporations move out and on to another country to repeat the injustice.  This is the science of exploitation that is deeply engrained in arguably the most dominant institution in the world.

It is important to note that the span of spheres in which the corporation occupies is constantly expanding.  In 2000, the third largest city in Bolivia, Cochabamba made the decision to re-finance its public water service through a $25 million loan from the World Bank.  As a condition of receiving the loan, the bank required that the Cochachamba’s water supply service be privatized.  Soon after, the San Francisco transnational corporation, Bechtel, obtained a private contract over the Bolivian city’s water supply.  The corporation, in conjunction with the government, went as far as rendering the collection of rain water to be illegal.  In essence, the corporation claimed ownership of the city’s rain water falling from the sky.  And again, the exploitation of the poor, part of the corporation’s doctrine explained legally in the courts and theoretically in capitalism took place.  People living on less than $2 per day were forced to pay ¼ of their income for fresh water.  The externalities that corporations ignore can be found in the brutal dilemma imposed on many Cochabamba citizens.  The new cost of privatized water forced many people to choose between things such as sending their children to school or providing an adequate amount of food and medical coverage for their families.  So, should the externalities of designating water as a commodity for sale be ignored, particularly in developing countries where personal resources are limited to begin with?  And if they are, what does this lead a person to conclude about the nature of a corporation?  Also, in fulfilling the requirements of the loan agreement, Bolivia’s airline and oil industry, along with its railroad, electricity and phone companies were all privatized as well.

One may ask, “Why haven’t I heard about these cases of corporate exploitation?”  Are the previous cases mentioned just outliers in a capitalist system that raises the living standards of so many people around the world?  The answer to the first question lies in the fact that mainstream media outlets such as Fox, CNN and ABC are all owned by corporations with vast interests outside of the news media itself.  These corporations’ interests are loyal first and foremost to the viability of their collective enterprise.  This includes, in addition to their news channels, holdings in everything from sports teams and airline companies to nuclear power plants and transportation systems.  Aside from that, media outlets depend heavily on advertising from thousands of other corporations who purchase air-time in between news breaks to promote their own product or service they are selling.  So, news about the exploitation of workers in the Dominican Republic won’t be making headlines while news channels are depending on revenue supplied in this case by Nike’s purchasing of CNN’s or Fox’s advertising air-time.  In other words, news that could in any manner negatively affect the image of, and thus the corporate interests of Nike will not be presented to the public simply because the profit motives of both the news channel and the sporting company come first in both cases.  The answer to the second question is lucidly explained with multiple examples of exploitation by different corporations in the documentary.  Examples include IBM and Coca Cola’s relationships with Nazi Germany and the chemical company, Monsanto’s hazardous antibiotic, rBGH, used in the production of milk.

By now you are probably asking yourself, “Where is morality in all of this?”  The problem with any psychopath or corporation is that their belief system is non-existent.  This special kind of “person” is concerned for and liable only to their stockholders.  The global community and workforce are not brought into the equation.  So in essence, there is only one overwhelming motivation: profit.  In simple terms, the corporation’s slogan can be expressed as profit over everything.

One must question the future implications that are linked to the influence which corporations possess.  The “personal” characteristics that define the very nature of a corporation imply a dark reality in which exploitation of the person and environment is permitted by law.  One must also question where and how any type of significant change is to occur when the supposed “watchdog” media is so deeply entrenched in a mutually defined relationship based on corporate interests.  The Corporation implies the need for a systemic change involving the relationships of corporations and other dominant institutions of the world.  In addition, it also advocates for a redefining of the fundamental capitalist principles that determine the overall functioning and objectives of modern corporations.   The film serves as an invaluable tool that will increase your understanding of how our complex world works and is much recommended.

– Bryant Anderson, MPT Intern

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“The Power of Being Arrested”

October 25, 2010

The aim of nonviolent activists is to change a situation using only the power of nonviolence. How do we know that they are succeeding; that they are on the path to change? How do we actually grasp their achievements? One tool to ‘measure’ the positive effects of such behaviours could be a kind of new scale. Like the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale, or the Richter magnitude scale for classifying the intensity of hurricanes and earthquakes, we could try to classify the nonviolence’s successes by the number of peace activists’ arrests in combination with the intensity of use of force in a government’s reaction. Well you might think that such a scale would be impossible to create, and honestly I would be the first to say that it is actually impossible to do. But still the idea is there.  And nobody would deny the fact that the more a government or groups counterattacks using what appears to be ‘disproportionate means’, the more the acts of the people in line of sight are ‘troubling’ them – – because peace activists are doing something right.  In the field of nonviolence, that means that peace activists are on the road to success.

Let’s apply the idea to a concrete situation: the Israeli-Palestinian’s conflict. The aim is not to support one party against the other. I do not want people to believe that, while pointing a finger at Israel’s reactions, I am voluntarily ignoring Palestinian ones, or that I therefore do not condemn Palestinians’ violent reactions. I am just using what I think is a relevant example.  Indeed, it seems like every time you look for news, you hear new cases in which Israeli authorities use what we can call ‘disproportionate’ means. Some of the latest instances which we can review are the cases of Rami Elhanan, Abdallah Abu Rahma, and Mairead Maguire.

Rami Elhanan is an Israeli Jewish nonviolent activist that has recently been spotlighted. Aged 60, Rami Elhanan is a former Israeli soldier who served in the three following wars: the War of Attrition in 1969, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and in Lebanon in 1982. After having lost his 14-year-old daughter in a suicide bombing in 1997, he became a member of the organization The Parents Circle-Families Forum that promotes solidarity between Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost close relatives in the conflict. In September 2010, he became a crew member on the boat for peace and justice called the Irene. He was joined by other Jewish activists. Though he knew the crew could not reach Gaza –because of the blockade held by Israel and Egypt- to deliver the boat’s lading, he wanted to be part of this action in order to catch his fellow Israelis’ attention on “the crime experienced by 1.5 million Palestinians”. While attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza, the sailboat was intercepted by the Israeli Navy on September 28th. The aim here is to highlight the disproportionate reaction of the Israeli government. Indeed, as stated by Rami Elhanan, the sailboat was encircled by an armada of hundreds of naval boats and forced to stop before the army took control of the sailboat.  Although the peace sailors had no weapons and  didn’t offer any resistance to the army, the crew was escorted to the harbour of Ashdod where about a hundred of soldiers were waiting for them; they were searched and questioned for a half hour. The nine activists were eventually paroled.

Palestinian Abdallah Abu Rahma is a secondary school teacher and the head of the Bil’in Popular Committee against the Wall. The committee was awarded the International League for Human Right’s Carl Von Ossietzky Medal in 2008 for its work in defence of human rights. Though the International Court of Justice stated in 2004 that the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was contrary to International Law, Abdallah Abu Rahma was arrested at his home in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 10th, 2009. At approximately 2a.m., ten Israeli military jeeps parked in front of his house, several soldiers entered the house and arrested him in presence of his wife and his three young children. Abdallah Abu Rahm, a nonviolent activist, was arrested because he demonstrated against the wall constructed by Israeli authorities, insisting on the fact that the wall violated the economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinians. Since his arrest, Abdallah Abu Rahma has been in Israeli detention in Ofer Prison. He was facing charges of “incitement” (Article 7(A) of Israeli Military order 101), “throwing stones” (Article 53(A)(2) of Military Order 378), “organising and participating in demonstrations without a permit” (Article 3 of Military Order 101) and “possession of arms” (Article 53(A)(1) of Military Order 378). The maximum penalty is 10 years of prison for each of the three first charges and for the last one people found guilty can incur a life sentence. On August 2010, Abdallah Abu Rahma was found guilty of “organizing and participating in an illegal demonstration” and “incitement” and acquitted on the other charges.

Mairead Maguire, an Irish peace activist and 1976 Nobel Peace, was arrested on 28 September 2010 while getting off the plane at Tel-Aviv’s Ben Gourion airport. She intended to spend the week in Tel-Aviv, a week dedicated to interviews with international peace activists in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. Despite an appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court, the deportation order was proclaimed valid on 4 October 2010 and the following morning Mairead Maguire was flown to the UK.  Actually, in recent years Mairead Maguire has become an active critic of the Israeli’s government policy towards the Palestinians people. Among other actions, she tried twice to run Israel’s naval embargo of the Gaza strip. On 30 June 2009, she was on board of a ferry carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The boat was intercepted by Israel; Mairead Maguire was detained before being deported to Dublin. On 3 June 2010, she was on board the MV Rachel Corrie. The boat was seized by the Israeli Navy; Mairead Maguire was released and deported after she was told she was subject to a 10-year deportation order.

Those stories all point a finger at one core idea: the Israeli government does not know how to handle nonviolent activists. This, in turn, demonstrates the true and undeniable power of nonviolence. How can you stop – on a legal basis – people that express their opinion in a truly legal and non-violent manner? The point is not to emphasize how nonviolence works, but how we can actually capture its efficiency.  It proves to be that the more a government uses ‘disproportionate’ means (like ten jeeps to arrest one pacifist man) the more nonviolent activists reach their goal (e.g., to spread the word on injustices and human rights violations);  that they are doing things right and thus “annoying” the government. What I am trying to say is that when reading the stories of people like Rami Elhanan, Abdallah Abu Rahma or Mairead Maguire, your first impression could be disillusionment. And how could it not be when you realize that in today’s world people are unjustly arrested, banned from a country just because they demand justice, and freedom and the respect of human rights for everybody? After all, the twentieth century is the century when great human rights conventions and declarations were passed. We can mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly in 1948, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – known as the European Convention on Human Rights – drafted in 1950 by the Council of Europe; the Charter of the Organization of the American States signed in 1948 which proclaims the need to consolidate democratic institutions and a regime of individual liberties and social justice based on the respect of Fundamental Rights; the American Convention on Human Rights – also known as the Pact of San José – adopted in 1969; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights – also known as the Banjul Charter – passed in 1981, to cite only those texts. Are they meant to stay texts, ideas, nothing more than declarations?  Or are they meant to become a reality?

Thinking about the high number of people being bullied because they stand up for what they believe in (and for what a majority of countries agreed on as they signed the aforementioned conventions) and considering the fact that they wage these fights using nonviolent weapons, a real feeling of indignation arises in me… and I think that many other people feel this same way. But on the other hand, we must say that those ‘disproportionate’ reactions are actually a blessing in disguise.  Indeed, the more ‘oppressors’- which can be a government or a group of people – counterattack through violent means and acts of  intimidation, the more actually nonviolence has a chance to reach its goal. Because if ‘oppressors’ did not react, it would have meant that pacifists’ actions are too insignificant for them to worry about, whereas while reacting, ‘oppressors’ are acknowledging that their control is in jeopardy.  First, they exhibit their inability to handle the situation non-violently, and secondly, they condemn themselves by demonstrating their disrespect for human rights because they arrest or banish nonviolent people – whose stories are eventually reported at an international level.  In many cases, these oppressors’ actions are eventually condemned either by the International Community or the civil society.

Furthermore, with today’s advanced technological tools, like cameras and the internet, it seems to be both more difficult and more complicated for ‘oppressors’ to hide what is going on. Of course, there are still countries where censorship remains. China therefore turns out to be a relevant recent example, because Chinese people could not express themselves upon learning Liu Xiaobo had been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. As far as that goes, the documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised proves to be a good example of the increasing difficulty of hiding the truth. The documentary focuses on the events that lead to the 2002 coup d’état attempt in Venezuela, in which president Hugo Chávez was removed from office for several days. The two Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain were originally in Venezuela to make a fly-on-the-wall biography of President Chávez. They followed Chávez and his staff during seven months. They were therefore smack in the middle of the action when the coup took place on April 11, 2001. Bartley and Ó Briain filmed on the streets of Caracas – the capital city – when the violence erupted; they also filmed many of the political upheavals that took place in the presidential palace. So even though the Venezuelan private Medias tried to stifle what was really going on, the two filmmakers succeeded in telling what they really saw by making and broadcasting their documentary.

This leads me to think that ‘oppressors’ have less and less room to maneuver and so I am willing to think that planned executions, like Archbishop Oscar Romero’s, will rarefy. Oscar Romero was a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador. On February 23, 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. This appointment was welcomed by the government, but many priests – especially those who openly supported Marxism – were disappointed because they feared that Romero’s conservative reputation would negatively affect liberation theology’s commitment to the poor. The assassination of priest Rutilio Grande – a personal friend – had a great impact on the archbishop.  Romero urged Arturo Armando Molina’s government to investigate, but his request was simply ignored. This led Romero to radicalize his position and began speaking out on poverty, social injustice, assassinations and the use of torture that took place in the country. The country’s situation worsened in 1979 when the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power.  A wave of human rights abuses by paramilitary right-wing groups and the government took place. To this, Romero – now becoming noticed at an international level – reacted by sending in February 1980 a letter to the U.S. president Jimmy Carter, demanding the U.S. stop sending military aid to the new government. He stated that this would “undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights”. Archbishop Romero was assassinated one month later, on 24 March1980 while celebrating a mass. The day before, he delivered a sermon demanding Salvadorian soldiers to stop supporting the government’s repression and violation of human rights. In 1993, an official U.N. report identified former Mayor and School of the Americas graduate Roberto D’Aubuisson as the person behind Romero’s assassination.

In the same vein, we can talk about South African Stephen “Steve” Biko. Steve Biko emerged in the late 1960s as a new nonviolent leader. He forcefully reasserted the principle of struggle through open and nonviolent resistance. He was arrested in 1977 after breaking the banning order that required him to stay at his own King William’s Town home. Biko was interrogated and tortured by the police; untreated, he succumbed to these injuries. Although the police claimed that Biko had been injured in a scuffle, the government was directly responsible for his death.

We can also look to the recent Israeli raid – in May 2010 – against the humanitarian ships of the ‘Gaza Freedom Flotilla’, in which 9 passengers lost their lives, and several dozens were injured. The Israeli government could not prevent the event from becoming internationally known as videos from the raid were made and broadcasted in foreign countries. Widespread international condemnations followed the raid. While Israel’s government set up the Turkel Commission to examine the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza and the flotilla raid, an international demand – calling for an independent investigation – arose. Subsequently, the United Nations Human Rights Council started a fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law that might have taken place during the raid on July 23, 2010 and on August 10, 2010 the United Nations’ panel started its work. This last example proves first that these kinds of events may become publicly known, and second that international pressure can result in investigations for the truth, and possibly prosecution of the guilty party(ies). Though hard work remains to be done in order to make international sanctions and convictions become effective, at least governments have to change their behaviour if they do not want to garner international attention for their actions.

To conclude, I just would like to remind the people that the more they hear stories like the ones of Rami Elhanan, Abdallah Abu Rahma or Mairead Maguire, they should feel hopeful instead of indignant or disheartened. First, because of the fact that we have indeed hear about them (they have not been squelched); secondly, because it demonstrates the government or groups’ difficulties in effectively handling or controlling non-violence (responding with the only means they are used to: violence);  and finally, because the more people hear about these ‘disproportionate’ reactions, the more they feel outraged and are thus willing to act to make these situations stop. That leads eventually to an increasing number of non-violent proponents. And if governments continue to act in the way they do, they are likely to arrest or banish their whole people, so that at the end they will have to answer one key question: on whose behalf are they governing?

–          Aude Feltz, MPT intern

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Blue Gold: World Water Wars

October 5, 2010

October 4, 2010

DVD cover for "Blue Gold"

Blue Gold

World Water Wars

Water is the most essential element for life. Where there is no water, life just disappears.  In the current exploration of the universe, when we are searching for any kind of life form, we tend first to look for water.  And we know that past civilizations have collapsed from poor water management and drought.  But despite the undeniable paramount nature of water, we tend to deal with it in either a cavalier or in an outright reprehensible manner….. and either mindset will lead us to certain future wars unless we reprioritize its value immediately.   That is what Blue Gold: World Water Wars is all about.   Highlighting the entering of water into the global marketplace and the political arena, it urges us to think about what is happening, and raises our awareness that a global water crisis is imminent.

Why do we talk about a crisis? Let’s turn to some startling figures:  97% of Earth’s water is salt water;  of the “Blue Planet’s” water sources, only 3% are made up of fresh water.  But did you know that much of this 3% of fresh water is polluted beyond human use?   Indeed chemicals used in agriculture pollute the ground water;  automobiles’ gas emissions pollute the water in our clouds.  Global industry does the most damage, and is virtually criminal in its disregard for maintaining potable water sources.   Let’s turn to another list of figures: 350,000 liters of water are used for the manufacture of an average automobile;  2 to 7 barrels of water are needed to produce one barrel of oil; 32 liters of water are necessary for making 1 microchip, and 50 thousand dams were built worldwide.  To these numbers we must add the factor of urbanization. Indeed, for the first time in history there are more people living in cities than in the countryside, and this phenomenon is not going to stop.

But what is the point? Well, it points a finger at the becoming scarcity of fresh water because of human activities. Indeed, those activities pollute water, and as a result water-borne diseases today kill more children than malaria, AIDS, or even wars.  In the past 100 years, 60% of the wetlands in the world have been destroyed, while wetlands are the natural purifying means for water. Deforestation – which is well underway, is a major contributor to soil erosion.  Indeed, trees roots absorb water and hold the watershed in place; but when trees disappear so does the water.  Because our water needs continue to increase, and also because surface water is not sufficient anymore, there is a growing dependency on ground water.  Even though we have no idea how much ground water there is in total, we are pumping up to 15 times more water from the ground than is being returned back into the ground. Because of paved sidewalks and streets, when it rains the water can’t get into the ground, so it enters the storm drain system, sending it unfiltered into the lakes and oceans;  evaporation increases our cloud cover, and concurrently the ground water decreases.  Dams prevent water from moving, and thus the nutrients it contains die, and eventually lead to desertification.  All these factors combine to result in nothing  short of an ongoing scarcity of water and the dark prospect that, in 50 years, there will likely be a collapse of the planet’s water sources, the essential element of life.

Water droplet

Now that you are aware of the primary issues, we can turn to the politics of the matter with one question: Whom does the water belong to? To the big water-marketing companies (Suez, Veolia, RWE, Vivendi) or to you, or to me? Well, that is a thorny question. You might think that water just belong to every human being. After all, water is a natural element, it is at the root of life and it is the only element you cannot live without; it is a death or life condition.  Whether you agree or not, this answer is wrong:   In fact, at “The Dublin Statement on Water and sustainable Development” held on January 31st, 1992, the United Nations named water as an economic good.  Water is therefore a good and not a right. So like any economic good, water can be owned, and it is actually owned by big water companies.  France is the country of big water companies. There, water was privatized in the 18th century. The idea was to bring water to newly built neighborhoods. The expensive water supply system would be borne by private investors that would get their money back by selling the water. In the 1980’s Margaret Thatcher privatized all the water in the UK; and in the 1990’s those companies began taking a global significance.  So for example, today, Buenos Aires’ water – like New York City’s water – belongs to Suez;  Puerto Rico and Chicago to Veolia;  Jakarta and Pittsburgh to RWE/Thames. Like any economic good, water has been subject to the law of profit, so only people who have the money have water.

Because of contracts that bind governments with companies (that means that the water of the country is owned by a company), more and more governments want to help themselves to the waters of the oceans, which means doing their own desalination. Nowadays, there are 87 corporations building these plants. But this solution turns to be a bad one. First, even though there are more desalination plants in the world, only rich countries, or the World Bank, or big corporations, or the three together are going to be able to afford to build these plants. Second, desalination requires fossil fuels burn and thus leads to more global carbon emissions, which means more global warning. So while responding to one problem, you actually aggravate another. And still, thorny issues remain: who is going to own this water?  Once cleaned, will the water be returned to the public domain? In fact, as water is necessary to live, “the ones that own desalination plants will control life”.

Desalination plant in Barcelona, Spain

Desalination plant in Barcelona, Spain

Globalization has also its part to play in the fresh water’s scarcity because water is being “lost”. This can be illustrated with the two following countries: China and Kenya.  China, with its few laws, is attracting agribusiness. As a result, almost all apple juice sold in the United States of America comes from China. But did you know that about 99 liters of water are needed per apple?  That means that China, a very dry country, is actually exporting its water to the US through the apples.  Kenya, another dry country, is also exporting its water through roses. Almost all roses sold in Europe come from Kenya while a dozen roses requires 120 liters of water. The water comes from Lake Naivaska and every day its level decreases. The point is that water is transported to another ecosystem and is completely lost.  Indeed, the water does not return to the land from which it has been taken, thus the lake water level  just keeps on decreasing until there is no more water, and the whole region turns into a desert area unfit for any kind of life.  But though citizens are aware of that, Kenya just keep on producing roses.  Kenya is actually being told by the World Bank to export water to get out of debt.   Another consequence is that, as water in these dry countries becomes scarcer, it thus becomes more expensive.  People who cannot afford to buy water have no choice but to take it from streams and get ill. And when people can afford to buy water, it provokes tensions within families: the person that has a job and thus pays for the water acquires the right to say for what purposes the water must be used. It also provokes some dramatic incidents: like a fire at someone’s home, the owner is not at home, and unfortunately neighbors do not have the money to stop the fire. In a South Africa’s village, this situation costs the life of two children.

Meanwhile people living in developed countries wonder why poor countries need emergency aid to provide something as basic as water. Actually the real question is, why are these countries poor?   The answer is that developing countries have no choice but to grow cash crops (like tea, coffee); developing countries are hurt while it benefits developed countries’ corporations.  So to fight the world water crisis, it is necessary, at first, to change the political and economic system.

The more we wait, the more world water shortage increases, and the more likely we are to reach a global water crisis. Indeed, serious conflict about water has already taken place. The most famous conflict concerns Owens Valley, California. In the 1920’s, William Mulholland, who was the head of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, ordered the building of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in order to take water from the Owens Valley and bring it to Los Angeles. Farmers in the Valley were put out of business and counterattacked in violent rebellions, trying to sabotage the aqueduct.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades near Sylmar

The Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades near Sylmar

Another example is the fight over the Kaveri River in India, which was one of the most bloody water wars. Though the conflict’s purpose was water, it was presented as a religious conflict.  Yet another well known water conflict took place in Bolivia, in the city of Cochabamba. There the World Bank refused to grant a loan to finance the investment program of a local water co-op, so a few years later, in 2000, the city was obliged to sell its water to the corporation Bechtel.  Even rain water was privatized, so people were prohibited from gathering rain water.  The folk, having no money to buy water, rose up, and in reaction the government sent the army to protect Bechtel’s rights.  After violent showdowns, the government finally defended its people and countered the World Bank’s decision.

Future water wars are going to take place. There seems to be no doubt about it, because water is essential to life.  This outcome seems to be inescapable, and that is why new maps, like the Potential Water Supply Crises by 2025 map, are being made. The aim for governments today is to identify areas where existing supplies are not adequate to meet water demands for people, farms and the environment.

Projected water scarcity, 2025 (National Intelligence Council)

Projected water scarcity, 2025 (National Intelligence Council)

Countries like Brazil, Russia, Canada, the water rich area of the world, are understanding they need to secure theirs sources of water.  For these countries, water will be their military and economic security, so like oil today, water is being protected by a military defense.  And poor water countries, like the United States, are trying to secure those areas for themselves.  The United States, for example, tried to set up a military base in Paraguay, near the Brazilian’s Guarini Aquifer, which is the world greatest aquifer. They first tied to convince Brazil to give them access to the aquifer.  But when it comes to water, and that we will lack of it, there might be no doubt that force will be used.  There is no question that this area will become the “Middle East” for water.

Guarini Aquifer

Guarini Aquifer

Now that the situation’s urgency is highlighted, we cannot just sit down and wait for this to happen.  We cannot, because there are available solutions.   Hydrologist Michael Kravcik insists on the simplicity of the solution: water has to return to its natural cycle and irrigate the land with rain water.  Like the Project Blue alternative, the solution can be simple and cheap: manually create small wooden dams in small streams and water holdings; the water is trapped so that it goes right into the ground replenishing the ground water system.  Rain can be brought to countries in drought thanks to the creation of clouds and rain in the atmosphere.  Furthermore this simple model can create millions of jobs for poor people around the world.  Another available solution is hydroponics technology, which is 20 to 30 times more efficient than growing crops outdoors. To these solutions we can add some others: going back to a food system where we are not dependable on global trade and where local water in used to grow appropriate crops; taking large dams down and replace them with alternative microturbins like those already used in Korea and Scandinavia; buildings streets with pavements that allow rain to filter through into the sub soil (moreover the ground water quality is improved); limiting the population growth of a region depending on available water supply; using low flow shower heads; turning off the tap when brushing teeth or shaving. But the most pressing deed might be calling for a UN Convention stating Water is a Human Right and a public trust and cannot be denied to anyone on the base of inability to pay. Because water is essential to every human being, control over the water companies should take place on an international level.

Finally we should all focus on what we normal citizens can achieve, and to do so there is one example to follow: the people of Uruguay. When drinking water was privatized, prices skyrocketed. But citizens reacted and successfully passed a constitutional amendment that established the right to water and forbids privatization. “People must become the water guardian of the 21st century”.

After writing this, I highly recommend you watch this incredible eye-opening documentary.  Coming from a country where opening the tap and having drinking water flowing seems so regular, having never thought of living even one day without fresh water, but being aware on how precious water is, this movie just makes me realize how pressing the moment to act is.  Because, Yes, there are injustices (people in developed countries worry about having a beautiful lawn even in desert area, while others are literally dying of thirst), and because No, it is not too late.  We all must, without waiting a single moment, share this duty.   It is a burden we should all bear because water shortage is going to affect us all, poor people at first but also the rich.  Never forget that past “smart” civilizations have collapsed from poor water management, and unless we change things, ours will too.

– Aude Feltz, MPT Intern-

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