water is a human right, why is it so elusive?

Privatizing water has taken the world by storm. How many people would rather pay for cases of bottled water than take it from their tap? How many communities are deprived of water because a corporation moves in to contain and sell their water? The situations are similar to what happens here in the US and what is happening across Africa. The greatest new commodity essential to life in the world is a bottle of water. This is no more evident in the US where we are so caught up in the corporate farce that we prefer the tastes of different waters – or so we think. Here is also comes with the idea that it is safer, cleaner, and healthier to drink bottled water as opposed to tap water. ABC news presented a special on the myths of bottled water. The leading expert, used by the bottled water companies, said that there was no reason to say either tap or bottled water was better than the other. The also conducted a taste test with NYC tap water and five other bottled waters, including the top selling, french Evian. Tap water ranked fairly high at #3 with a bottled water and Evian ranked at the very bottom as the least good tasting water sample.

What is wrong with this picture? In the US we would rather pay five dollars for a gallon of water than drink the great tap water that is virtually free? How can this happen when there is such a huge scarcity of water in the world. Over 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to clean, safe water to drink. We are talking about any drinkable water at all – but we would rather complain about taste and healthiness. In 2002, the Copenhagen Consensus determined that it was a government’s responsibility to ensure the right to water for all citizens. Sadly this has not been the case in far too many developing countries. So if the public sector fails to ensure the right to water, can the private sector fill the gap?

From Reason Magazine: “Contractors often drive tankers to poor districts, selling water by the can, in which case the very poorest of the world’s inhabitants are already exposed to market forces but on very unfair terms, because water obtained like this is on average twelve times more expensive than water from regular water mains, and often still more expensive than that.” Many times whole water supply and treatment systems are sold to private corporations. However, well many times privatization creates a price increase for a minority of people already connected to an ineffective government water system, a greater number of people without access to water are served. There are plenty of examples to argue both for and against water privatization. In the long-term, as with most development policies, when privatization is implemented correctly with the majority of people in focus then it works as a positive. Many activists de-cry water privatization as an evil and it can be. The new fear is the great “corporate water grab.” Just as with oil, policies need to be created to make sure the needs of people are met, not just business interests. In many African countries it is too late and privatization has taken a negative toll on the poor’s ability to access water.

As far as bottled water, just stop buying it. This drives up the cost of water and its increased privatization as well as created more pollution. Re-use a water container and drink the beautiful water from your tap.

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1 Comment

  1. We couldn’t agree more! We’ve been encouraging people to give up the bottled water habit and donate the savings to an organization providing access to clean water. We’re building clean water projects in Kenya and one of our early projects was funded in large part by folks who committed to give up their bottled water. You can get to our site by clicking on the link above or going to TheWaterProject.org, if you’re interested.Imagine the difference you’ll make. (the avg. person spends over $100/year on bottled water!!)Thanks for a great post.

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