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Maude Barlow shares her insights into the looming water crisis having recently finished a new book. She discusses the hydrological damage caused by pollution and by the displacement and diversion of water. As water becomes increasingly scarce the issue is moving up the political agenda—in the United States, China and parts of Europe particularly. Governments are backing new technologies to reuse or desalinate water, but Barlow believes these may disincentivize better resource management.
- Water Stress
- Running time
- 6m 12s
- Hamburg, Germany, May 12, 2007
- Marcus Morrell
- About Maude Barlow
Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest citizen’s advocacy organization, and the founder of the Blue Planet Project which works to stop commodification of the world’s water. She is the recipient of numerous educational awards and has received honorary doctorates from four Canadian universities for her social justice work.
I’ve just finished a new book on water and so I know a lot more than I did when I started writing this book. People always think that you write a book because it is all in your head—no (laughs)—you are always learning as you go along and the three things that I learn that are terribly important—for me there were anyway—and that is just the severity of the ecological crisis.
That we are literally now creating massive desserts, where we’re taking water from aquifers or watersheds either by virtual trade in water or by pipeline, by mass irrigation, or just one way or another we are taking water from where nature put it, and we are destroying it or channeling it into the oceans and we are actually losing water from the hydrologic cycle, and I don’t think people understand that the global freshwater crisis is the ground level equivalent to greenhouse gas emissions from the top.
Climate change is not just greenhouse gas emissions—as important as those are; please don’t think I am negating them—but we’re not paying attention to what we are doing to the displacement, to the diversion and the pollution, the mass pollution of water. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that the global corporate cartel that I worried about when I wrote my first book, Blue Gold has come to pass, and water is being more and more corporately controlled. Now we all know about the delivery of water by these big utilities, Suez, Vivendi, or Veolia, and that continues apace and of course bottled water which is an enormous industry.
But the one that kind of was newer to me was the creation of a massive new water reuse technology which is being heavily heavily funded by governments, particularly by US and European governments, which I think is going to be a disincentive to enact water protection laws or to enforce water protection laws because we’re building a massive international industry to clean water up and there is going to be trade and environmental services so-called, through the WTO and GATS (General Agreement on Trade and Services) around water technology cleanup. And I envisage a world in 20 years when we’ve dried out so much of the planet and all of the oceans are ringed by massive desalination plants, run by nuclear power. That’s not in my head. That’s coming. That’s for sure. Those plans are there. Which is terribly polluting, a horrible, polluting, energy intensive industry. And that people—rich people—will buy bottled water from the few remote, clean places left on earth or take it from the corporations from clouds—literally that technology is being developed—while millions and millions more die. This is just the future that I can see unless we start to change course so that the ecological crisis, the human rights crisis, and the corporate control are just absolutely so clear to me.
Also what has become clear is how water has moved up the national security agenda of the United States in particular, of Europe and China, those three centers—of course every country is worried about it. But in terms of the world’s policeman (the United States) they’re both noting that water is becoming a source of crisis around the world, is going to disrupt their power in some places, they’re going to be global refugees from water—there already are—there’s going to be conflicts over water. So they’re beginning to really take note of this. They are also already running out of water—36 states are water-distressed in the United States, and this is not a cyclical drought. So the United States is also looking for sources of water for itself, as is China which is now planning to move massive amounts of water from the Tibetan plains which will affect the five major rivers that feed all of Asia.
So this new constellation of seeing water not just as a crisis for those who don’t have it—and that is the starting point for the most important work—but it is suddenly becoming a geopolitical issue and suddenly being recognized by the powers that be in a way that I don’t think it was before, even five years ago.
So what does that mean for all of us in terms of this work? Well I think we have to really start understanding the true corporate reach of water and really have to challenge it. And we have to, we are working very hard to get water declared a human right both at the United Nations and within nation state conventions—or constitutions—so that water is understood by one and all to be this fundamental right. We need to have a movement that puts together the human rights, development, community groups, indigenous groups, people working on the ground for, literally, the right to clean water, and ecologists, scientists, environmentalists on the other side—and right now I see them working not in tandem, kind of on two roads. And in fact sometimes the environmentalists are saying “just price it; doesn’t matter if it is corporately controlled, we’ve got to get it under control; lets let the corporations come in and sell it and only those who can afford it will be able to buy it and that will take care of the water crisis.” Well I guess so, a billion people die I guess that will help the water crisis but that is sure not the way to do it, right? So I see a need for a movement that pulls these trends together and that is something.
And for those who are worrying about the geopolitical issues, around energy for instance, they better open their analysis to water. The Americans, I am convinced, are looking at the Guaraní aquifer in South America, they are sure looking at Northern Canada where we have many rivers but they’re running north, and it would take huge engineering feats to reverse their flow and put them through pipes and send them down to the mid-west, but I think we need to start understanding that these big power blocs are going to be going for water as a survival tool.
China is up against the water wall, unless it finds some new way to deal with this its economic miracle is going to slam closed, so its suddenly become, in my opinion, the most important human right and ecological issue in the world.
— Maude Barlow