The World Bank believes in water privatisation like in the way that other people believe in Jesus, Muhammad or Buddha. The World Bank believes in water privatisation as a matter of theology. — Jim Schultz, Cochabamba Democracy Centre
The law of supply and demand has been the basis of economic activity for millennia. In the context of our present economy, with its skewed, profit-centric priorities, this means that scarcity is profitable, and abundance is not. It’s an absurd reality, but one we see played out in almost every area of our lives on a daily basis. When this absurdity is applied to a resource as fundamentally existential as water, some people get rich, while others suffer and die.
The video at top takes a very good look at the issue of water privatisation in different parts of the world, showing how an ecological crisis is being greatly exacerbated. You’ll hear how water privitisation was born out of the Thatcherite policies that brought about the sale of much of the UK’s infrastructure to corporations. (Indeed, it is exactly for reasons like this that societies create governments in the first place, to protect the people they serve from greedy, extractive interests, not to hand everything to those interests on a platter.) You’ll meet the people on the ground who are affected and the people who, often perhaps with the best of intentions, are making it impossible for many to access what should be a basic human right. As I’ve said before, economic mechanisms can actually defy the laws of physics — in that in our economy, water will actually flow uphill, away from the poor, and towards money, while armed guards are deployed to protect an industry that capitalises on misery.
I can’t help but wonder if corporations won’t yet find a way to privatise our air. Actually, in some ways they are doing it already (think carbon trading). Like air, water should be owned, and cared for, by everyone — it should be seen as part of the commons, not a commodity to be traded — otherwise what we are distributing is injustice. I say injustice because those who cannot afford to buy water are those who operate either outside or on the margins of the destructive globalised economy. They do not participate in our unsustainable activities, our ecological crimes, but they are punished for not being accomplices.
Instead of investing money in systems that lock up water supplies and distribute it only to those who can afford it, I believe we need to see policies enacted worldwide which invest in restoring earth’s hydrological cycles.
Some time ago I wrote about The World’s Largest Water Harvesting Earthworks Project. That article will show you how Sri Lanka transformed itself from being largely arid to becoming the lush tropical island we know today. Permaculturists recognise that we can do this. With sensible design, earthworks and water harvesting, it is possible to regreen the planet, recharge our aquifers, protect our land and homes from fire, and ensure a glass of clean water for all. I think of this article on Sri Lanka again now, pondering that if people of ancient times could recognise the value of water, and understood how to make optimum use of it, then why can’t we? The answer is simple — we live with an economy that thrives on destruction. It seems that there is no money to be made unless something is being destroyed. We know how to restore watersheds, we know how to farm in a way that will keep our water clean and perpetually cycling, but do we know how to reinvent ourselves — our society and our economy? Short of that, all we’re doing is applying band-aids to a cancerous sore.
Think again before you privatise. — Prime Minister of Tanzania