Water Privatisation must be Strenuously Resisted

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Features, Human Rights, International

by Jamison Maeda

From before recorded history, numerous wars have been fought over gold. More recently, due to the invention of the internal combustion engine, oil became the world’s most valued commodity. But because of the exponential growth of the human population, the next battle for control may be over something that at one point many of us took for granted, water.

From space, the Earth is sapphire blue because it’s covered in water. However, only 3% is fresh water. Governments and multinational corporations are scrambling to control access to drinkable water. But ordinary people continue the fight for their rights and against water privatisation.

Back in 1999, the government of Bolivia sold its water resources to Aguas del Tunari which is controlled by Bechtel of San Francisco, California. Immediately Aguas del Tunari raised the price of water by 35%. Bolivians, already struggling in what is South America’s poorest country, protested the increase in water charges but their government ignored them. The people began to protest. Then the protests escalated into three months of rioting.

“Everyone was protesting,” says journalist Luis Bredow. “I’ve never seen anything like it in Bolivia. Housewives were throwing stones at the police. It really was a revolt.”

Aguas del Tunari/Bechtel was eventually ousted, but over one hundred people were injured in the riots and a teenager returning from his part-time job was killed.

Bechtel popped up again in 2003. This time in Iraq, where it won a no-bid reconstruction contract from the U.S. for $100 billion. Bechtel’s vast political connections allowed it to obtain this contract despite huge blunders in its past.

In California, Bechtel installed a nuclear power plant reactor backwards. In Boston, a $2.5 billion job for a ‘Big Dig’ project became the most expensive in US history, actually costing taxpayers over $14 billion and several people’s lives.

With giant corporations such as Bechtel, Nestle, Vivendi and Suez snatching up water rights around the globe, the truth is, poor people will continue to lose access to clean water or be forced to pay outrageous taxes for it.  There are currently 3,000 homes per week being cut off from the water supply in Detroit, a city which sits on the Great Lakes containing one fifth of the worlds surface water. In a move that has been described as an attempt to appeal to private investors, the city increased rates by 9% and have shut of 79,000 residents. This move has been condemned by the UN as a clear violation of human rights.

Ireland’s proposed water tax will offer a free allowance to homeowners of 30,000 litres each year. An additional 38,000 litres will be given for each child. But the average person uses more than 50,000 litres of water each year, and a household of two adults and two children will be use more than 200,000.

With this additional tax, Irish families who are already suffering due to austerity measures will be forced to pay hundreds of euro in taxes each year for something that literally falls from the sky.  And as we all know from our experience with bin charges the allowances will get smaller and the bills will get bigger.