Picture queuing for your daily ration of water, only to discover that water meter prices have doubled from last month.  Imagine private water enforcers blocking your family’s access to water and disease ravaging local communities when people are forced to use nearby streams for drinking and bathing. As private companies jockey for global control of water, these scenarios have already become a reality in India, Latin America, and Africa. And, with nearly two thirds of the world’s population expected to be ‘water-poor’ by 2025, it’s an issue that must be pushed to the forefront of global dialogue. While proponents tout the accomplishments of select privatization projects, ultimately the prescription for water privatization just doesn’t add up.

Water is indispensable to human survival; it quenches thirst, nurtures food, and makes possible sanitation and good health. It cannot be transformed into a commodity because its importance is beyond calculation. Water is a human entitlement, and has been recognized as such in numerous international treaties, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees all people the right to a ‘standard of living adequate for their health and well-being.’

Furthermore, corporations have hardly proven to be ethical stewards of humanity. In pursuit of profit, corporate conglomerates have subjected laborers to inhumane work conditions, polluted the environment in which they live, and reduced the quality and safety of consumer products. Corporations have no conscience; they cannot act with the best interests of society in mind. What consequences might our global population face if corporations were to control the very essence of human life?

Since there is no existing alternative, it is important to recognize that water embodies the ultimate economic monopoly. Given the lack of regulation governing private water providers and the rising demand for water supply worldwide, corporations have the potential to reap unlimited financial benefits. If water were to become a commodity, humans would be transformed into customers in an innately unbalanced economic system. Finally, there remains the significant issue of public security. Water privatization presents a twofold security dilemma: lack of regulation places public health at risk and inadequate water delivery fosters an environment ripe for civil unrest. In many nations that suffer water scarcity, citizens have begun stealing water from each other to survive. Whether they wish it or not, the ultimate responsibility for water distribution will fall on the government.

It’s ironic that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have backed privatization as a condition of many international loans. Perhaps such rulings were based on the perceived inefficiency of public water operators. Yet water privatization projects in the United States, Bolivia, and South Africa have achieved only mediocre results and engendered massive protests and legal battles. Many companies have already abandoned the developing world due to high political and financial risk. ‘Successful’ projects, on the other hand, have often exacerbated the inequality of current water systems, largely neglecting rural communities or inflating water prices too high for people to afford.

Given the very public consequences of water distribution, the matter seems best left to the supervision of national governments. Rather than signing over water rights to private corporations, global citizens can work to modernize public water systems by supporting international exchange programs for civil planners and contributing financially to water pipeline reconstruction efforts. As Americans, we can resist buying bottled water, be mindful of our water consumption, and urge Congress to implement legislation that will prevent private companies from gaining ownership of water.  In the end, water privatization cannot happen without the political and financial support of the global community.

Lindsay Ramirez

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