Water as Commodity: The Wrong Prescription

Maude Barlow | 07.01.2001

Food First Backgrounder, Summer 2001, Vol. 7, No. 3

The world is poised to make crucial and irrevocable decisions about water. When world leaders and civil society representatives gathered at the tenth Stockholm Water Symposium in August 2000, there was little disagreement about the urgent nature of the water crisis facing the world. All the attendees agreed that the human race has taken water for granted and massively misjudged the capacity of the earth’s water systems to sustain the demands made upon it. Our supply of available fresh water is finite and represents less than half of one percent of the world’s total water stock. Thirty-one countries are facing water stress and scarcity and over a billion people lack adequate access to clean drinking water. By consensus, the group recognized the terrible reality that by the year 2025, as much as two-thirds of the world’s population will be living with water shortages or absolute water scarcity.

Under the current system of market-driven economic globalization, there are no limits placed on where capital can go to ‘harvest’ nature.

The Stockholm Water Symposium also acknowledged that instead of taking great care with the limited water we have, we are diverting, polluting, and depleting it at an astonishing rate as if there were no reckoning to come. But there is profound disagreement among those in the “water world,” around the  nature of the threat and the solution to it. A growing movement of people believe that the imperatives of economic globalization—growth, a seamless global consumer market, corporate rule, deregulation, privatization, and free trade—are the driving forces behind the destruction of our water systems. These must be challenged and rejected if the world’s water is to be saved.