Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Is water a commodity?

Our evening session on World Water Day was an eye-opener. To me, it revealed some ways in which the world works and its difficult rules. 

We reached “Bangalore Film society” situated in Banaswadi at around 4:30 pm. The facebook page had indicated that today’s screening would be a short film on water in South Africa. The film society’s office was covered in green and looked full of purpose.
We were welcomed by a small group of people and were seated in a comfortable room. The film lasted about ten minutes and portrayed the struggle, of a community and some individuals, in “Orange county farm” to free their water from the Johannesberg Water corporation. As we watched the film, I experienced various emotions of pain, pity, helplessness, shock and utter disgust at the way the “poor” community had been deprived of water. Water was equated to “talk-time” on sim-cards and people had to buy pre-paid cards, that are swiped on the meter, for water to flow into their buckets. 

Kshitij Urs, a well-known water activist, shared his ideas about the film and prompted us to think deeper into the issue. Water has already been privatized in some parts of Karnataka in the regions of Hubli-Dharwad and Mysore. The talk also meandered into how loans offered by the central government impose a lot of restrictions on the local government – here the case of JNNURM, a central government policy that promotes development but demands privatization was discussed. The world bank loans (like JNNURM) come attached with a dog-collar that is imposed on the government taking a loan – a set of restrictions that help in choking the borrowing country.

Some key questions to ask ourselves are:
  • Is privatization always good?
  • Can an essential resource like water be commoditized?
  • Are we already on the path to make water “controllable” and an asset that can cause wars?
  • Do we realize the “real” value of water or see it simply as “another” resource?
You should watch this film here:

Water is not a human right?
After a short tea break, we watched a film on Nestle which could have been aptly titled “Atrocious Nestle”. Inside my head, the warm, comfortable, nutritious childhood brand transformed itself into a monstrous, bully-like brand devouring some of the world’s purest water sources.
Here is a short clip in which the Nestle CEO talks about the “Right of water” not being a right and the importance of water to the survival of “Nestle” – who ever thought water was important for “ordinary” people to survive?

The one hour video was anchored on Nestle’s brand of drinking water called “Poland spring”.
Where do you think they get this water from? Obviously from pristine springs and nature-wrapped locations, that no longer remain that way once Nestle breaks their cocoons.  They are advertised as “Spring”, “mountain”, “pristine”, “glacial” waters. Such marketing of Ordinary water improves its demand from its consumers and allows for companies to charge an exorbitant rate for their consumption.

The need for “pure” water
The rising bottled water demand in the US, plus the combined apathy of individuals who don’t spare a thought while reaching for a bottled water brand, doesn’t help. There have been studies that show that tap water in US is as good or even better than some bottled water brands. But the companies keep the consumers tightly wrapped in illusions. Illusions that make any other potable water look dangerous – Drink them and you will surely get a disease!  So where does all this water come from?

Nestle Pure life is another Packaged water brand that is “purified” – pure in terms of the exact ratio of minerals; impure because it is stolen. Stolen from villages and towns, whose people cannot fight back for their permanent access to drinking-level ground water or stolen from towns where in spite of citizen’s protest Nestle continues to exploit the town’s resources. Many places which had a Nestle water factory report that the water table runs dry or gets polluted after few years of the factory’s operations.  Nestle’s solution to this- Nestle moves on to the next town. It is that simple.

It’s a fact that corporations that are huge and powerful are performing such acts. But individuals too play a major part in this.
  •  Does each of us , when we drink bottled water or eat a packet of chips or for that matter use any product, realize that there might be unintended effects on environment and people BECAUSE you are CONSUMING this product?
  •  Any product that is not produced locally is causing an effect somewhere else on the globe – you are taking away natural localized resources for your purpose that might be thousands of miles away.
  • How some as ordinary individuals we have been systematically kept out of information that talks about our consumption and its origins?

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