Water is Life. Boycotting Water Corporations, Especially Bottled Water and Soft Drinks.

I realized this morning again that its high time I wrote my views on boycotting bottled water, as the major Tibetan Uprising day event is coming up, and as usual, organizers will buy large packs of bottled water for all the people gathered, to rest their vocals for protesting out loud, in the name of convenience. I request organizers to buy minimum of bottled water, and encourage people to bring their own water bottles, for the sake of environment and the world.

I’m taking an introductory international development course At York university, and as a part of course readings, we had to buy a book on water, “Blue Covenant, The Global Water Crisis and The Coming Battle for the Right to Water”, authored by a prominent Canadian water activist, Maude Barlow, who also wrote the book, Blue Gold. The course book gave me a lot of insight about the business of water, and exposes all of the wrong doings of water corporations, which was heartbreaking. It was then I resolved to boycott water related products, and also write a blog on it, to raise awareness on this issue, but I kept postponing it. I’ll be using my course book as a source of information for this article.

Boycotting bottled water and soft drinks suddenly might seem to be a drastic measure, and I also found it hard and extreme. You need some drinks at home occasionally for yourself and for the guest also, as we can’t offer them only water, and then explain the whole reason behind boycotting drinks, which might scare them. So, I request people people to buy a minimum of soft drinks or juices, but bottled water can definitely be boycotted.

Water is the source of life. Without water, life cannot exist. Therefore, it means that water belongs to everybody, to the whole world. It also means that having access to clean drinking water is our fundamental right, our human right. No one should be denied or excluded from having access to water, and neither does anyone have the right to deny access to water to anyone. Those in breach of this fundamental human right should be tried under crimes against humanity and given the most severe punishment possible, even life imprisonment.

Unfortunately, under the UN convention of Rights, thanks to intense lobbying and bribing by water corporations in the past, water has been removed as the basic right, with the only exception of food. Water is now regarded as a commodity, something to be traded in the market. It has become a means of making maximum profit, something to be exploited, just like any other natural resources.

Today, water is the fastest growing market in the world, with the current value of it in the trillions. With the growing shortage of freshwater in world, the value of water can only only rise up and up, and at a rapid rate. Water will be come the new gold in future, and wars will be fought over it, not oil. Therefore, the corporations, sees an immense opportunity to exploit this water shortages for their own benefit, ie for the unchecked growth of their corporations, just like they are doing with oil. If the particular resources is abundant and freely available, then there is not much opportunities for corporations to exploit. When the resource is scarce, the price gets high, which entices the corporations to seize the resources and sell it to the highest bidder, thus stuffing up their insatiable and bottomless pocket of greed with all the money of the world.

I’ll use some of the paragraphs from this book to illustrate my points and try to simplify them. The book, Blue Covenant, was published in 2007, so there maybe some changes in the figures and estimates stated in the book compared to 2012, but I don’t expect much differences.

The bottled water industry is one of the most polluting industries on earth, and one of the least regulated. Most bottled water comes in plastic made of some chemicals derived from crude oil, and they can leach from bottle into the water and into the ground. Exporting millions of bottled water worldwide produces tons of CO2 into the environment. Billions of kgs of plastics are used to bottle water every year, creating mountains of garbage and fouling waterways. Fewer than 5 percent pf plastic bottles around the world are recycled. Most are either incinerated (burned), which produces toxic by-products such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals, or buried, where they take a thousand years to biodegrade. Of those plastic water bottles from western countries that are recycled, almost half go to china for processing, where they are fouling china’s already strained waterways and adding to the energy costs of this product.

The water extraction for bottled water is concentrated near already-stressed water systems such as The Great Lakes in North America, from which almost four trillion litres of water are already taken from the basin every day, according to the Detroit News. In rural India, the existence of many coca cola plants led to a sudden drop in water levels, which devasted the watersheds and livelihoods of those who live there. Some plants were even forced to shut down due to massive protests from the locals. Water bottlers pay almost nothing for water they extract and in most countries, pay little or no royalties or taxes on this common heritage from which they earn such huge profits. Further, large amounts of water are wasted in the production of Pepsi and Coke bottled water, which is essentially filtered tap water. It takes 2.6 litres of tap water to produce 1 litre of their bottle water due to the complicated and wasteful filtering process. Also, it takes 250 litres of water to produce the sugar for any of its flavored waters or soft drinks.

Nor is bottled water any safer than tap water on the whole. Studies have found that because it is largely unregulated, some bottled water is, in fact, less safe than more highly regulated tap water. In the 1999 survey by US based natural resources defence council, 103 brands of bottled water were tested and the process took four years. 2004 studies found that 68 brands of mineral water, contained high levels of bacterial contamination, including traces of legioenella bacteria and mold penicillium, in the bottled water. A 2006 report called have you bottled it, by the brush environmental group Sustain, recommends tap water over bottled water for personal heath and planet. Coca Cola was forced to recall all its Dasani bottled water from the United Kingdom in 2004 when it was discovered to have high levels of bromate, a chemical compound that can cause abdominal pain, hearing impairment, kidney failure and even death at high-enough doses. yet companies such as Coca Cola aggressively market their water as some kind of miracle beverage in schools and universities around the world and finding new markets as people buy the myth that only bottled water is safe to drink. The worst thing about bottled water is that it allows people to view water as a commodity and sets the stage, one bottle at a time, for acceptance of the complete corporate takeover of water.

I’ll begin my points from here. Jotting down sentences from the book was a real pain, as i prefer to write my own thoughts. A word of caution to people in poor countries. The testing of tap water mentioned here is mainly from rich, developed countries where the testing of water is more stringent. So, the quality of tap water in poor countries can’t be assumed to be just as safe. The bottled water may be safer but thats the not the right way in the long run. The real solution is to pressure the local gov’t to stop the corporate takeover of water utilities and enforce stricter regulations regarding the quality of tap water, and to buy and install small, portable, filtering equipment at home.

There has been an increasing trend to privatize water in all the poor countries, which formed a basis concept of capitalism called neo-liberalism, which advocates for minimal role of gov’t in economic activity, even for the provision of basic utilities such as water. This Neoliberalsim and Neo-colonialism goes hand in hand, as privatization opens the door for the giant corporations to take control of all the resources in poor countries, thus colonizing them indirectly through economic means. In her recent talk at york university, a prominent environmental activist, Vandana Shiva, rightly said that, just like European countries exploited the Native Indians of Americas, the modern corporations are set to make Indians out of all of us, unless we stop them.

The book has many points, which I find it hard to mention all of them here as I try to keep things simple. There are many menaces of water corporations, but the bottled water is the most obvious one and which people can easily relate to. I also heard that because not all wastes are recycled, they are drained out into the ocean, and that there is a huge area of garbage, about the size of Texas, somewhere in the ocean. There are also many dead zones in the ocean, in which the chemical pollutants from industrial waste lead to growth of algae, which uses up all the oxygen in water, and results in the death of large number of fishes.

Studies have proven that tap water is safer in western counties than bottled water. Studies also show that most of the bottled water are just a tap water, packaged and sold in bottles. So, the corporations are merely filling the bottle with tap water, and then selling it as mineral water with miraculous benefits. The claims of bottled water coming from natural springs are not entirely true. Even when some of their claims are true, it is a deadly news to the environment as that means the ruthless exploitation of natural springs, which benefits only corporations, while leaving out all the other parts of ecosystem in lurch, which dies of thirst and drought. The very basis of capitalism is to exploit nature, and only think of their self interest, which is profit, which is in stark contrast to traditional way of worshipping nature and living in harmony with nature.

Water is life. Water serves many purposes in maintaining ecosystem. It plays a role in rain cycle, replenishes soil to make them fertile, helps in growth of biodiversity, ie many species of tree and plants, quenches the thirst of animals in wild. Water is crucial for agriculture, and more crucial for survival of mankind. I mentioned the uses of water from my limited knowledge. Experts may know more uses of water, but my purpose is to lay out the basic uses of water, which everyone can understand. So, in the poor countries where water supply infrastructure is not available, people in rural areas depend on natural springs for their source of water. Therefore, when the water corporations swoop into those poor regions and pump out all the water they can to make profits, the water levels drop drastically, as the rate of water being pumped out mercilessly is faster than the natural springs can provide, and it is the local people and the local ecosystem that suffers, while the corporations will just pack their bags and leave when there is nothing more to extract and go in serach of some other places to exploit.

And most of time, the exploitation is so severe that the regeneration of nature will take a very long time, and in some cases, the area will be dead, a total wasteland. This capitalist exploitation is the brutal rape of nature indeed, carried out by greedy, psychotic, zero conscience corporations, who don’t feel any remorse over their actions.

After the poor countries were forced to adopt privatization measures, the giant water corporations were awarded the contract to supply water in those countries. but the way private companies work is with full cost recovery and profit making, and resulted in the huge increases in the water charges for local residents and the supply was cut to those who couldn’t pay it. According to contract, the companies were responsible for all the repairs, but they ignored the poor neighbourhoods due to low incentive for profit making, which was clearly a breach of contract. So, people all over were outraged by such a large increase in bill and demanded the withdrawal of companies. There was a famous Bolivia water wars in the 1990’s in which the locals were successful in pressuring the gov’t to cancel the contract with companies and expelled them from the country. The companies themselves were found guilty of tax evasion stuffs. and there are many fights going all over the world.

After attending Vandana Shiva talk at York University last week, I realize that there are too many problems in the world and equal number of causes. So, we feel overwhelmed by all these problems and get confused about which causes to join.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama rightly said that as long as there are humans on earth, there will be problems. More people, more problem and more causes. All these causes address particular issues, which is like treating many symptoms of same disease, while the root cause is still intact. The real disease is inside of us, in our mind. The problems occur due to the wrong use of our superior human intelligence. So, the real struggle should target the mind, and make sure the human intelligence is used for right purpose. Only then, World Peace will come, a place where people can truly understand one another, which is the aspiration of Naruto and Jiraiya Sensei also, from the wildly popular Japanese manga or anime, Naruto. Its just an idea for now, as I’m still looking for a concrete way to attain that goal.

As long as there are human made problems, there will a resistance to it by the people themselves in the form of activism. The scenarios might look bleak, but this corporate greed to privatize water is one of the biggest issues of the world, as this is an assault on life and nature itself.

Hence, there is a need to seriously address this growing problem and one way is to make a firm commitment to boycott bottled water. we should also insist on reinstating water as a basic human right not just in UN Convention of rights, but in constitution of all the countries of the world. So, lets reclaim our rights to water back from corporations. Water for all.

I posted a short video here titled “Bolivia water wars”. This was the public protest in Bolivia in the town of Cochabamba in the 1990s, against the privatization of water. Even rainwater was privatized, and deemed illegal as it would constitute a loss for the water corporations.

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