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© Copyright 2004, From The Wilderness Publications, All Rights Reserved. This story may NOT be posted on any Internet web site without express written permission. Contact May be circulated, distributed or transmitted for non-profit purposes only.

Beyond Peak Oil
  • Water Privatization
  • Water Wars
  • Water & Oil Don't Mix
  • Vapor Wars?
  • All Bottled Up

Michael Kane

[Without oil, industrial life is impossible. But without water, human life is impossible. Privatize it, and you put the very existence of every man, every woman, every kid, into the hands of a few corporations whose robot-brains pursue maximum profit through a single hard-wired read-only program called capitalism. Here FTW's Michael Kane sketches the basics of an increasingly dire issue and equips us for the new learning we're going to need. -JAH]

*Special thanks to Public Citizen & Maude Barlow for their outstanding contribution to the body politic regarding the growing world water crisis.

September 17, 2004 0800 PDT (FTW) - In 1996, Vice President of the World Bank Ismail Seregaldin predicted the wars of this century would be over water. It is the oil of the 21st Century. The trend of privatization is based on a systemic belief that the private sector can function more efficiently than public municipalities, but the goal which drives this belief is profit, not efficiency.

Throughout the world, water privatization has proven time and again to be less efficient than public municipal systems. The largest private water companies are Germany's RWE and the French multi-nationals Vivendi & Suez.

We are starting to see just how high the price of life can be. In Bolivia, a Bechtel subsidiary made it illegal to collect rainwater on one's own property without a permit.1 In Africa, the trend is leaning toward privatized water meters that deny fresh water to those who can't afford it. In Canada, the battleground is over bulk water exports. Various "water wars" in America are just beginning to show signs of stress in the southwest, while water wars in Israel and Palestine are nothing new.

1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water. 2.4 billion (40% of the world's population) lack access to proper sanitation. Over 5 million people die annually of water-borne diseases. 2

The website of the World Health Organization (WHO) explains:

"As freshwater becomes increasingly scarce due to population growth, urbanization and, probably, climate change, the use of wastewater in agriculture, aquaculture, groundwater recharge and in other areas will increase. In some cases, wastewater is the only water resource available to poor, subsistence-level farming communities" [emphasis added]. 3

Water is perhaps the final frontier. After water, the only thing left to privatize is air, and even that has been tackled. In some parts of the world, one can walk into an "oxygen bar" to purchase fresh air. The rich will have clean air, organic produce, and purified water. The poor will have asthma, genetically modified organisms, and sewer water.

Water is a human right, and there should be no question about that. How can one even talk about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without a prerequisite of the right to fresh water?

Water = Life. It's a simple equation.

The Psychosis of Water Privatization

psy·cho·sis (sI-'kO-s&s)
n. pl. psy·cho·ses (-sEz)

A severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning.

The global capitalists do not believe the above equation to be completely true. Instead, they offer an opposing equation of water = commodity. In this equation, water is equivalent to, say, pork bellies. Water is a product to be bought and sold to the highest bidder.

If psychosis is a kind of break from reality, this commoditization of human survival is surely psychotic. And water-as-commodity is a madness to which only the very privileged could possibly succumb.

In Africa, water privatization has given rise to the scariest privatization trend in the history of mankind - the prepayment water debit card. If you have money on your card, you can buy water. If your card is "tapped" - well, they've developed a special term for those who don't have money on their prepaid water cards.

The term is "Self-Disconnection." 4

This sends chills down my spine as it harkens back to Hitler's "Evacuation" of the Jews. A more honest term would be Genocide by Dehydration. There simply is no moral defense for the political and economic new reality of prepaid water meters. The United Kingdom declared prepaid water meters illegal under the U.K. Water Act of 1998. This was based on the provision that water is vital to human health, which means "Self-Disconnection" is immoral and illegal. I suppose this line of logic just doesn't apply to the masses of poor black Africans.

Water Wars
For Israel, the water question was the key to the land question.
--Stan Goff, FTW, June 14, 2004

At the Third World Water Conference in Kyoto, Japan in 2003, Mikhail Gorbachev stated that in recent history there have been 21 armed disputes over water and 18 of those involved Israel. Yehezkel Lein, a water expert for B'tselem - an Israeli human rights group - stated, "There is a clear linkage between the gap in water availability and the occupation." 5

Israel has controlled the West Bank & Gaza Strip water sources since 1967, when it first occupied the area. In part 4 of the Jurassic Park series, Stan Goff talked about the origins and outcome of the 6-day war. Regardless of who started the conflict and why, Goff is correct in that the outcome was Israeli control of almost all the region's water supply. Syria's Golan Heights remain occupied to this day by Israel, and it is a key headwater to the Jordan River - a primary water source for the entire region.6 The late King Hussein of Jordan once said water was the only reason he would go to war with Israel, since it is Israel that controls Jordan's water supply.

While the Middle East may be one of the worst potential flash points for water conflict, it is not the only region of the world prone to water wars. The CIA predicts that:

…water scarcities and allocation will pose significant challenges to governments in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and northern China. Regional tensions over water will be heightened by 2015…By 2015 nearly half the world's population-more than 3 billion people-will live in countries that are "water-stressed" 7

Canada & Alaska have the world's largest fresh water reserves.

In 1998 Sun Belt Water Inc. sued the Canadian government under Chapter 11 of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), because the corporation lost a contract to export water from British Columbia when the province banned the export of bulk water in 1991. Chapter 11 allows a corporation to sue the government of a nation when it feels the laws of that nation present a barrier to trade. Chapter 11 only applies to foreign-based companies. Domestic companies have to follow the law of the land.

Sun Belt CEO Jack Lindsay was quoted as saying, "Because of NAFTA, we are now stakeholders in the national water policy of Canada."8 The endgame of Neo-Liberalism is a one-world government run by corporations, devoid of any democratic principles.

In 1998, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment approved a plan by Nova Group to export millions of gallons of water, in giant tankers, to Asia. This issue is vital to Canadian Environmentalists. Under NAFTA, once bulk water exports start to flow, they can never be shut off. The Province later rescinded the grant, temporarily avoiding mass export of Canada's water resources. The tankers were going to carry water on one leg of the trip, and return filled with oil.

Water & Oil Don't Mix
As signs of peak oil proliferate, one of the least-analyzed impacts of energy consumption is that of water usage. It is assumed that while oil is a non-renewable resource, water is renewable. But water is only renewable when used at a sustainable rate, in processes whose chemical reversal is cost-effective.9

The Aral Sea basin shared by Afghanistan, Iran and five countries of the former Soviet Union was once the world's fourth largest lake. Excessive river diversions (part of a massive Soviet irrigation project) have caused it to lose half its area and three-fourths of its volume, while its surrounding wetlands have shrunk by 85%.10

One of the knee-jerk reactions to the mention of the water crisis is the apparent panacea of desalination. This is the process of removing salt from seawater. It's expensive and highly energy intensive, requiring profligate burning of hydrocarbons. And it produces a bi-product of highly concentrated saline brine that is a major cause of pollution when dumped back into oceans.11 Recently the Saudi Arabian Minister of Finance, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf, said that country will need to spend billions of dollars on desalination and power plants.12

The notion of water as a renewable resource does not take into account the over-paved industrial world, which results in excessive rainwater runoff reducing the amount of water returning to underground aquifers. Pavement (which is made of asphalt, a hydrocarbon product) depletes underground aquifers by diverting water into sewers. After being treated, wastewater is often diverted into the ocean. In the long term this is not a renewable cycle, especially given the ongoing competition for fresh water among industrial manufacturers.

Petroleum refining is one of the most water-intensive of all industrial activities. Tar Sands oil represents 66% of the world's supply of petroleum,13 and it requires huge amounts of fresh water for refining. High-pressure steam (heated by natural gas) is required to wash heavy oil from sand.14

Manufacturing one automobile requires approximately 118,877 gallons of fresh water. This water comes in clean and goes out polluted. With peak oil putting our entire energy paradigm in question, if we consider what it means to create a new generation of alternative-fuel cars - to build 700 million new vehicles would require 83,213,900,000,000 gallons of fresh water.15

Vapor Wars?
On July 14 2004, BBC News ran the headline, "China rain-making creates a storm," and went on to state, "Relations between neighboring Chinese cities have become stormy over the use of controversial technology which encourages rainfall."

"Cloud Seeding" involves aerial aerosol spray operations that shoot chemicals into clouds in order to encourage rainfall. One official from the city of Zhoukou accused the city of Pingdingshan of intercepting clouds that would have drifted to other places.16

On September 24 of last year, ABC News headlined "Taking on Mother Nature - Is Science Ready to Change the Weather?" The report went on to state, "Sometime in early October, nine massive jets will take to the skies over southern Florida. Each will carry 16,000-330,000 pounds of an unusual arsenal: cloud-busting powder."

The "cloud busting powder" comes from a Florida based company named Dyn-o-mat.17 It is said this technology may be a cushion to fierce storms, but stopping the rain would be a powerful weapon of war.

Col. Walter M. Washabaugh, of the U.S. Air Force has stated, "Aerial spraying for pest or weed control and fire suppression (are) the only Air Force activities that involve aircraft intentionally spraying."18

But on August 2, 2001, the BBC had already reported the "cloud busting" story stating, "The Florida based company, Dyn-o-mat, used a military aircraft to drop four tonnes of its powder on to a developing storm cloud. [emphasis added]"19

Is it possible the Air Force is involved in other aerosol operations that Col. Washabaugh wouldn't speak of? If the Air Force is not involved in weather modification experiments, as Col. Washabaugh has claimed, why did it entertain an academic paper back in 1996 from the Air Force-run Air University titled, "Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025"?20

The report includes sections titled Storm Enhancement, Deny Fresh Water, Induce Drought, Applying Weather Modification to Military Operations, and How Do We Get There From Here?21

All Bottled Up
The trend of bottled water has swept the world over the past five years in unprecedented fashion. Macy's sells their own bottled water. The illusion of bottled water is that it is cleaner than tap water.

Most bottled water is tap water.

New York City has what is widely considered the best municipal water in the world; yet the trend to buy bottled water shipped from all across the globe has not missed the big apple.

Moreover, the EPA requires tap water to be disinfected, from a protected source or filtered, tested for water-borne viruses and confirmed that E. Coli and fecal coliform are not present. None of those requirements applies to bottled water.22

Ironically, public concern about tap water is largely responsible for the recent boom in bottled water sales. If you live in NYC, you're better off sticking to tap water with a simple filter to minimize possible lead contamination from old pipes.

While every industrialized nation depends on hydrocarbons, the need for water is absolutely universal. In a sense, it connects the privileged few with the restless many, the urban with the rural, the Amazonian indigenous peoples with the bond-traders of Tokyo. Along with Peak Oil, our handling of the water crisis will determine much of the human prospect for the foreseeable future.

For more information on water, watch "Everything you ever wanted to know about water privatization"
(produced by Public Citizen's Water for All Campaign & Michael Kane)

Sign-on Your Support for the Congressional "Water for the World" Resolution

1GATS Campaign, The World Development Movement,

Leasing the Rain, NOW with Bill Moyers, July 5, 2002

Bechtel vs. Bolivia, The Democracy Center

2Everything you ever wanted to know about water privatization, Visual Flash presentation, Public Citizen & Michael Kane,

3Waste Water Use, World Health Organization (WHO) website

4Is This What Efficiency Looks Like? Prepaid Water Meters, Public Citizen

5Water war leaves Palestinians thirsty, BBC News - UK edition, June 16, 2003

6Jurassic Park, Pseudo Events, and Prisons: The Fallout from Abu Graib - part IV, Stan Goff, From the Wilderness, June 14, 2004

7Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts, National Intelligence Council (NIC) - CIA website, December 2000

8Everything you ever wanted to know about water privatization, Ibid (note 4)

9Water is eternal, but some uses can retire it indefinitely. For an extreme example, cool a vat of spent fuel rods with it and you can't expect to use that water again, for anything, ever. - Ed.

10Blue Gold, Maude Barlow, Spring, 2001

11Who Owns Water?, Maude Barlow & Tony Clarke, The Nation, September 2, 2002

12Saudi's Missing Barrels of Oil Production, Julian Darley, From the Wilderness, June 2, 2004

13Tar Sands

14Oil Shortages Look Certain by 2007 - LNG to the Rescue? Dale Allen Pfeiffer, From the Wilderness, February 19, 2004

15The Automobile and the Environment, Stuart Baird, M., Energy Educators of Ontario, 1993

16China rain-making creates a storm, BBC News - World Edition, July 14, 2004

17Taking on Mother Nature, ABC News, Amanda Onion, September 23, 2003

18Col. Walter M. Washabaugh response to Mr. Rick Moore's letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, April 20, 2001

19US makes 'weather control powder,' BBC News - Sci/Tech, Julian Siddle, August 2, 2001


21Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025, research paper, August 1996

22Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype? National Resources Defense Council, March 1999


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