The Battle To
An interview by Jennifer Bauduy, associate editor at Tompaine.com
Gazette Introductory Note: The following in an interview published July 1, 2002 on the superb site Tompaine.com
Maude Barlow is the volunteer chair of Canada's largest public advocacy group, the Council of Canadians. Her new book, Blue Gold, written with co-author Tony Clarke, exposes efforts by transnational corporations to control the world's dwindling water supply. Jennifer Bauduy interviewed Barlow for TomPaine.com.
TomPaine.com: What inspired you to write a book on water?
Maude Barlow: We got interested in the issue of water first because water was included as a 'good' in both the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, then in the [North American Free Trade Agreement].
That's how I got involved. It was really from a position of Canadian sovereignty -- the sovereign right of the Canadian people to determine what happens to our water resources. We have figured for a long time when the U.S. runs out, it's just going to come say 'Turn on the tap.'
It's what happened with our energy under NAFTA. We signed a proportional sharing agreement and now we are not allowed to turn away any request for natural gas or oil from the U.S. We basically don't own our energy resources any more, and we didn't want that to happen to water.
I sent myself on a journey to teach myself about the part that I didn't know. I knew the trade stuff really well, but I didn't know the environment part of it, or the human rights part of it -- just how unfair it is about who has access to fresh water and how much we have.
I think my original analysis was the first political analysis on water that wasn't just looking at the scarcity issue and sounding the alarm, but actually putting the political question about who owns it, who's trying to get it, politically what should its future be. It sounds crazy to talk about politics and water, but it's all about politics.
TP.c: In other words whether water is a 'good,' or whether it's a 'right?'
Barlow: And who it belongs to. I argue that it doesn't belong to anybody. It belongs to the Earth, and it belongs to all species. It is a fundamental right of humans and all species to have clean water. No one should be able to expropriate it for personal profit. Some governments, and this goes from capitalist to socialist to communist governments, have said 'It's ours to do with what we want.'
It's not that it has just happened in capitalist systems. Governments [in general] have been horribly abusive with water. Now, corporations are coming in and saying, 'We'll take over. And we'll own it, and we'll put it on the open market -- like French fries and cars. We'll sell it to the highest bidder, and because it will be expensive, the market will reduce demand, or the use of it, and that will save the world's water.'
Yes it may reduce the amount of water [used] because it will be so expensive to buy, but people will die. A lot more people will die than are dying now because water will be considered a for-profit, marketable commodity that you'll have to pay full price for.
TP.c: Why do you think Blue Gold has gotten so much international attention?
Barlow: I attribute the interest around the world to the fact that the world's running out of water. I think it's suddenly exploded into this issue, because it's really real.
There are places in the world where it's not a future crisis, it's now. And it isn't just pollution, and contaminated waters, although that's a huge part of the problem. There are actually farmers going to their wells, and the wells have gone dry because Coca-Cola got in there and bought up the water table.
The situation is suddenly extraordinarily real -- from the Middle East to Mexico City, to 22 countries in Africa, to California. I think it's going to be a battleground in the next two or three decades. It's going to be equally as passionate an issue as climate change, and maybe more because when people don't have access to drinking water they die.
TP.c: Can a world water crisis be averted?
Barlow: Well, we absolutely know what to do to save the world's water. It's based on the twin foundations of conservation and equity. We have to stop consuming, and using and wasting, in the northern countries so much. We have to bring in strict legislation on industrial abuse. We have to shift from flood irrigation to drip irrigation. We have to bring in the toughest laws you can conceive of around environmental dumping, toxic dumping, chemical pollution, which means if industry doesn't toe the line, get the hell out.
We have to learn to live within nature's limits. The question is how do you do that if it's been all handed over to private companies who need to make a profit from it.
If we could only have the foresight to see that this water crisis is a comet coming to Earth. It's on its way, it's as destructive, and it's going to be a huge thing. It is already a huge thing in many parts of the world. But instead of our leaders, our politicians, and our governments coming together and saying, 'Let's plan a collective strategy.' Instead, water is becoming the source of war. Water is becoming the source of greed. Water is becoming the source of hoarding.
TP.c: I think many people have been aware of the issue, but until now there hasn't been a book or report that tied all the issues together.
Barlow: The hope is that this book would help launch a new spirit of cooperation in the human family. This is life-threatening for the entire Earth. Could we possibly put aside ethnic and religious historical differences? Could it be that water could become the focus of a true movement towards peace? Is that possible? And what a dream that would be.
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