All over the world, from Cochabamba to Berlin, water privatization has been challenged in recent years and in many cases reversed, such as in Paris. In Italy, millions vorted in a referendum against water privatization - but the European Central Bank urges the government to privatize nevertheless. One aspect of water privatization is the strategy of bottled water companies like Nestlé and Coca Cola to urge people to buy bottled water instead of using public water services.
Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians/Blue Planet Project, Right Livelihood Award Laureate ("Alternative Nobel Prize")
David Goessmann: While we are seeing water shortages around the world, public water services have been heavily privatised. Talk about the global business with water and the privatisation process.
Maude Barlow: We're seeing a real move by the World Bank, by many governments and certainly by the private sector to privatise water services. We're fighting back very hard and we have stopped the privatisation juggernaut to some extent. They keep coming back at us with new ways to do it. I give you an example in my country: The federal government is saying we will only give money for infrastructure to municipalities if they move to public-private-partnership so they hold out the money. Other governments like Italy actually just came out and said everybody has to move to a private system and that's why they had a winning referendum. Which didn't matter because then the European (Central) Bank turned around and said I don't care what you voted; you're going to privatise your water. So we're really up against those forces. But we have managed to stop privatisation in a whole bunch of cities or to roll it back like Paris, because when people have an experience with private water services they don't like it. People need to remember that for the same amount of money they have to deliver water, the same amount that the public sector has, but they have to make a profit for their shareholders, so they either have to cut the number of workers, raise the price of water, usually a lot, cut pollution and safety controls or all of those things together. We're observing that as communities find out what this is like they're saying: "get out". And we're very happy - we have a lot of examples of communities and municipalities having turned the table and reversed privatisations.
Fabian Scheidler: Dams are considered to provide clean renewable energy. Corporations can even use them to offset their carbon emissions. But how do especially mega-dams affect the rivers and by this the global water system?
Maude Barlow: Big dams are one of the problems with green energy and the green economy. We're heading toward Rio +20 and this green economy and green energy and now they're talking blue economy and blue markets. This is the new thing on water. It scares the hell out of me. So just to answer you on dams: Big dams are part of the problem. When you disrupt the flow of a river you disrupt the entire natural system of the river. Methane builds up behind the dams, they create greenhouse gas emissions that are part of the energy problem. It is stunning to me that we still have the World Bank and many governments promoting big dams with the evidence we have of not only the human and species displacement but the damages done to water systems themselves. The other thing about dams is that they stop many rivers in the world from reaching the ocean and the place where the rivers' freshwater meets oceans is a very important spawning ground for aquatic life. We destroy that when we damn up the rivers, so that they no longer reach the ocean. We're interrupting nature's plan or if you're religious, gods plan. And who do we think we are? I find it stunning that we're still putting out those kinds of solutions when we have so many more nature-friendly small technology solutions that would cost so much less. Why isn't the world interested in something that costs less? - I don't understand.
David Goessmann: Here in Europe or in North America people are used to drinking bottled water. Market reports predict that sales of bottle water will grow most quickly in Asia and Latin America due to 'the poor quality of potable water' in many countries. But where does the water come from and how do corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi make money with it? And who is on the losing side?
Maude Barlow: The bottled water industry will argue that their percentage of the water takings is small compared to, say, agribusiness and they're right. The problem of the bottled water industry from a water point of view - there is the pollution of the bottles obviously and the energy - but from just a pure water point of view the problem is that they put up a plant on a single source. They can't move around and take a little from here and a little from there. They have to put a plant up on a spring or a reservoir or an aquifer or a river. And then they pump that local source mercilessly. I call it water mining. It's like gold mining. It's like a company that comes along and just sucks it up until it's gone. So they harm local water systems. They deplete local water springs. In Great Lakes of North America the bottled water companies actually partially reversed the flow of Lake Michigan from this massive pumping of water. We have to understand that even though they don't take as large an amount as some other sectors they do it in a specific area. And then they have the trucks coming in and taking that water trough countrysides and chewing up the wetlands and so on. And then there are the bottles themselves. Something like 250 billion a year of these little bottles. Where do they go? Most of them do not get recycled. Most end up in landfills and so on. What bothers me so much with the bottled water companies is: they're deliberately targeting Asia and Latin America and Africa and I heard one senior bottled water executive say we want to do with bottled water what they did with cell phones.
They said we'll just jump over landlines. We won't put in landline systems in these countries we'll just let everybody who can afford it buy a cell phone. That's the same thing. They don't want to put in pipes and infrastructure. They don't want to pay for that. What they want is everybody to have bottled water. That's evil. I'm sorry; I think it's nothing short of evil. I think that kind of thinking that you're not going to put the emphasis on providing clean safe public drinking water for people, for poor people particularly, and you're going to make them dependent on your bottle - it's like an addiction - I think it's disgusting.
Fabian Scheidler: Which role does industrial agriculture play in the global water crisis?
Maude Barlow: Again in this very new report that just came out they said they're not using 400 litres per day but 4000. This is a stunning new statistic and I don't know why it wasn't in every paper in the world but it wasn't. We've been saying that agriculture takes about 70% of water consumption. They said it's 92%. They said if you look at the global water trade and the water needed for it, this virtual water we're talking about is actually 92%. It is increasingly consuming most of the world's water. So this is a very big problem. And it's why I link it back to trade and the whole global trade system. Because you're using more water, you're removing water from watersheds to ship halfway around the world when you could be maintaining that water in the local watershed. Industrial food production of course uses massive amounts of water. The green revolution failed in India. Sure the miracle at first was they produced lots more food but they destroyed biodiversity and water supplies. Now Bill Gates is taking the same model to Africa. A: it uses a lot of water, B: it pollutes a lot of water because of all the chemicals and the nitrates and the herbicides and pesticides and all this stuff. We're now having intensive livestock operations of course which massively destroy huge amounts of water - huge amounts! We've now got biofuel using the land to grow fuel to feed cars instead of land to grow food to feed people. And for every litre of corn ethanol produced for instance, on average it takes 1700 litres of water to produce. So again, to try to cut down on our use of fossil fuels in our cars - it could be the same thing with sugar cane ethanol from Brazil - you are destroying land, you are using and destroying too much water for our addiction to cars. But it's this notion again that there's so much water that it doesn't matter. You can use water to alleviate other problems because there's so much of it.