Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 9, 2001
Access to water is a basic right
A few months ago (WCR, Oct, 2, 2000), I wrote about the privatization of water in Bolivia, the subsequent public outrage in spite of government repression and the final victory of the people and the consequent expulsion of the Bechtel Corporation from Cochabamba.
I got a call from someone that week who said she and her husband were probably the only Cochabambians in Edmonton. They thanked me for portraying the situation correctly.
Since then we have had our own fatal hydro experience in Walkerton, water-boiling warnings in several communities across the nation and reports of contamination of water sources on isolated Indian reserves.
It has come to light that some people in charge of this vital resource are poorly trained and their facilities ill equipped, especially outside of the large urban centres.
Canada is in the enviable position of having the largest fresh water supply in the world, but industry, mining and modern farming practices have taken the freshness out of this natural substance.
If governments allow a public service to run down because of indifference, ignorance, emphasis on tax cuts and foreign debt servicing, then private companies will claim that they can do a better job. We can see this trend in health care, transportation, education and the prison industry.
The Liberal government has sworn up and down that our water is not for sale. But just out of curiosity, I suppose, the government is inquiring about the cost of water should our elected representatives change their minds.
Premier Roger Grimes of Newfoundland announced on March 27 that he was willing to consider a proposal from the McCurdy group to export 59 billion litres of water annually from Gisborne Lake. A thirsty U.S. thinks it is only neighbourly.
Once bulk water exports begin, NAFTA kicks in and American corporations can take as much water as they want. Don't expect the WTO to rule in our favour.
In 1996, the Metalclad Corporation sued Mexico for closing down a toxic waste disposal plant the corporation had built, because local communities and a geological audit had demonstrated the facility contaminated the local water supply. In August 2000, Mexico was ordered under NAFTA to pay Metalclad US$20 million in lost profits.
In Colombia, where labour leaders "disappear" at the rate of almost one a week, Canada is involved in building a dam that threatens to pollute the waters and destroy the livelihood of local natives. A few weeks ago the chief "disappeared" because he protested too much.
Corporation driven trade agreements dictate environmental and social policies everywhere in spite of euphoric statements by the FTAA negotiators that our most important export is democracy and that a freedom-starved world is embracing it eagerly.
Last December, an international delegation of free citizens met in Bolivia and declared: "Water belongs to the earth and all species and is sacred to life. Water must be conserved, reclaimed and protected for future generations.
"Water is a fundamental human right which should be protected by all levels of government. It should not be commodified, privatized or traded for commercial purposes. These rights must be enshrined in an international treaty as non controvertible."
As for democracy, they proclaimed, "Citizens must be respected as equal partners with governments in the protection and regulation of water." "The peoples of the earth," they stated, "are the only vehicle to promote democracy and save water."
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