Excerpted from a speech by Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, at a meeting at OISE, May 25, hosted by OPIRG, KAIROS and others. Rating: NNNNN
As we stepped off the plane in South Africa, for the 10-year millennium celebration, supposedly, of the Earth Summit, the very first thing we saw was this great big billboard by De Beers, the diamond people.
Instead of saying "A diamond is forever," they had a raindrop, or a teardrop, saying "Water is forever. De Beers diamonds." The summit was funded by Coca- Cola, among others, and all the big water companies were there. In fact, Suez, Vivendi [now renamed Veolia Environment] and RWE-AG all sat on the official European delegation as voting members as if they were elected to government. Just stunning.
We took a tour on an old rickety school bus with a group of activists to meet volunteers in the community. The constitution in South Africa does guarantee water as a human right, but it doesn't say that it can't be for profit. (By the way, the women in Africa [as a group] walk an average 16 times to the moon and back every day to fetch water.)
We stood there with these activists, and all of a sudden a great big air-conditioned BMW double-decker bus rolled up.
It was all the delegates from the European Union coming to see the wonderful work of Suez [the same people who built the Suez canal].
The men in their three-piece suits came out of the bus and tiptoed to the church, you know, hoping not to get any of this poverty on them. All of these representatives from the European Union met up with the community activists, who told them they had no ability to pay [for water].
The president of Suez was there, and suddenly an activist realized who he was and started to yell at him. All the children were yelling, because people there are dying.
[The delegation] started huddling around the president of Suez and rushed him and everybody else onto the bus, which then careened out of Orange Farm, South Africa, as hundreds of activists yelled, "Stop and listen to us. Try to understand."
I call these companies water hunters, because water has become so precious, it's now blue gold. In Plachimada, India, Coca-Cola has used satellite imagery from the U.S. military to find out where the water sources underground are found.
Coca-Cola went to the these communities mostly tribal, mostly indigenous and set up huge plants around the water source, building great big armed fortresses.
They're just taking the water until it's gone. They are literally destroying entire water tables.
I was in Texas not long ago and debated the vice-president of Coca-Cola International, an American from Texas who is responsible for the public relations. He said to me, "Maude, Maude, Maude, my dear, they won't compromise, those people!"
And I said, "Let me get this straight. These people have lived in these communities for millennia. They make no pollution. You've come in and taken their water sources, which by your own admission will last only a certain amount of time, and you're asking what compromise there could be?
"There's no compromise here. The compromise is for you to go home! This water belongs to the people!"
If you look at a map of where water is and who has access to it, of course there's no surprise that it's the poor people of the world, 1.3 billion and counting, who don't have access.
About 24 jumbo jets of children a day die of water-borne diseases. At the rate we're going, if we don't vastly improve our relationship to water, everyone studying this in-depth the World Bank, the United Nations is telling us that by the year 2025 two-thirds of the world's population will not have adequate access to water.
I couldn't exaggerate the world's water crisis.
All of the institutions, including the ones we disagree with, are finally admitting this is a worldwide crisis. It's like a comet.
You know the movies where a comet is coming at Earth and suddenly all the differences everybody has don't mean so much because they're all going to die in 24 hours? Well, this is our comet.
But instead of seeing that and governments and people around the world coming together to deal with it, the only model for development is privatization, deregulation the smallest government possible allowing transnational corporations to dictate what levels of regulations they will tolerate if they go across borders
This economic globalization ideology has permeated all of the major institutions including the United Nations at the very time that we need to do just the opposite.