Corporatization Washing out Human Rights
Water wars have come a long way from jetting water guns at friends during summertime. As water grows more scarce, not only does a worldwide impact ensure: a new market is created.
The term water privatization describes the ownership of public water utilities, or “water systems.” The market is tight and exclusive. Those who participate, however, have reaped a large profit from owning or operating water sectors. Two of the main companies, Veolia and Suez, control about 70 percent of the world’s water service market, according to web magazine Solidarity. Additionally, control of water systems can manifest in many different ways, including mining of aquifers and sources of fresh water, leases that allow for power over the delivery of water systems and gathering of revenues, and management of municipal water systems.
Water is the new oil, Fortune magazine declared in regards to its increasing value. The World Bank has predicted that two thirds of the world will experience water shortage by 2025. To make matters worse, the nonprofit sustainability group For the Love Of Water describes many sanitation systems as antiquated and inadequate. To avoid spending the billions of dollars required to update these systems, more and more communities are selling or leasing water systems to private corporations. This method of management fosters appeal in a number of areas for one, placing profit in clean water would reduce the amount of unsanitary water consumed by the public. In addition, putting a price on formally public water attaches a certain responsibility to using the resource: people would be more inclined to take care of the water and make an effort to reduce waste.
Peter Nelson, a professional engineer who has used his work to advocate for privatization, speaks to the idea that putting a price on water would encourage conservation and better care of the resource: “If you need water, you buy it; if you have water you don’t need, you can sell it. It becomes a valuable financial commodity; so, you’re disciplined to use it responsibly and take care of it.”
In this sense, state controlled water allows people to be more reckless with their water usage, whereas private ownership would attach a certain consciousness to how water is used.
Along these lines, Ariel Dinar, a professor at UC Riverside with a concentration in water and environmental studies, notes that allowing a single entity to control water may make quality and regulations more manageable.
“It will be easier to regulate one corporation rather than many individual users.” This could be an instance where privatization could potentially facilitate overlooked policies and more when it comes to control over water.
Water systems are not the only venue for control of water. Typically sold using plastic, bottled water also solicits a large sum from annual sales. The industry grossed $14.2 billion selling 36.5 gallons of water in 2015 according to International Bottled Water Association; the market is reported to grow about 10 percent each year. The companies with the most profits are familiar to anyone who has walked down the aisle of a grocery store or peered into a vending machine: leading brands include Aquafina, Dasani and Poland Spring.
When it comes to the market, the sector from which bottled water is sold is flawed in many ways. By neglecting the availability of tap water, consumers spend 300 times more money on bottled water instead of simply turning on the faucet, according to Business Insider. Many argue that bottled water is safer to drink in comparison to tap, but in reality, toxins leaked into bottled water present enough health concerns to replace doubt in public water systems regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, money spent on bottled water far exceeds that of tap, even up to a thousand times over, according to the Food and Water Watch.
Troublingly, the actions of several bottled water brands have shown signs of corruption: in 2015, Nestle came under fire for draining Sacramento aquifers while the rest of California suffered in a drought that is still prevalent today. This is perhaps the most pressing issue when using water as a profit: a fundamental resource is put in jeopardy with the interest of financial gain.
Certainly the privatization of water calls into question the argument that water is a human right and should be available to all despite financial ability to pay for it. There have been a number of successful cases of water privatization. When introduced in places like Rwanda and Mozambique, the International Development Association noted that ownership of water has led to improvements in availability, provision and quality of water supply. Despite this, there are many reasons to be wary when considering water privatization, on a retail and a systematic level.
This issue of controlling water systems becomes a central point of contention in water privatization according to the nonprofit organization Water for All. Privatizing water would lead to a nonexistent supply for those who are homeless or otherwise do not have the financial capability to buy a private share of water. Lack of access to clean water plagues 783 million people according to the United Nations and this could affect even more people should water be priced above economic capacity for the impoverished.
By focusing the attention on stockholders, water privatization leads to a lack of accountability for the general public being served. Dinar said that lack of care associated with maintenance leads to adulterated water supply. “If management of water is not regulated by the state or the government, it will lead to deduction in the level of water in the aquifer, and eventually result in lower quality water, which could be a consequence of corporate control.”
In addition, water reserved for private sectors is represented by the National Association of Water Companies, which has been frequently known to lobby Congress and the EPA to refrain from implementing higher water standards. According to the Food and Water Watch, the process of water privatization also takes a considerable investment of time and finances as contracts, cost overruns, and conversion of workforce begins to take its toll.
Despite the potential in the market for water, there is a way to achieve financial gain while avoiding the detriments of water privatization. Instead of complete private ownership over the resource, the concept of public-public partnership, or PUPs, has been introduced as an efficient alternative. Food and Water Watch defines PUPs as a cooperation between public water utilities or non-governmental organizations, combining resources and supporting a shared capacity. No profits would be involved, but this would take the focus off money that acts as the primary reason for the failure of privatization.
Emanuele Lobina, who has done extensive work on water privatization with the Public Services International Research Unit, said that removing profits is one of the biggest advantages of public-public partnerships.
“Without profits, these partnerships are not forced to focus on making money… this can increase investment and also removes the economic incentives of private sectors..”
Partners would collaborate and use their resources to gain power and technical competence, while creating international collaboration as well as attention to local needs. The market-based magazine On the Commons reports that public-public partnerships have exceeded private contractual control of water, comprising a more benign way to manage water. Furthermore, the creation of a Clean Water Trust Fund would allow municipalities to facilitate improvements to infrastructure on old water management systems. This would allow federal funding for the maintenance of water systems and protect the resource against impurities.
Alternatives to water privatization do not have to be so daunting and advanced. Anyone can encourage encourage state ownership over water supply. For one, making an effort to drink tap water is a safe and effective way to bypass expenses given to water corporations. Measures such as buying a filtered water bottle for tap can save up to $1400 a year. In addition, water privatization can be avoided by persuading Congress to seek out alternate methods of water management. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that a bill on privatization was scrapped in 2016; while the bill did not pass, this proves that legal measures are being taken to push privatization of water over state ownership. To help avoid this, adversaries might be compelled to call the Senate or Congress and bring this conversation to the forefront of administrative attention.
The UN declared water to be a human right in 2010. When it comes to one of the world’s most fundamental resources, proper provision and management of water is essential to human survival. In order to preserve quality of life, water corporations ought to stop looking at water as an opportunity for profit and begin recognizing the resource as something entitled to all of us.
Catherine Colgan is a first-year exploratory major who has led many horses to water albeit them drinking rather slowly. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org