If you haven’t yet spent two hours of your holiday season watching Quantum of Solace, I’m about to ruin a nice little plot twist for you. Watch out.

In addition to all the regular trappings of a James Bond thriller – car chases, one-liners, beautiful women dying in interesting ways – the film introduced to the masses the wisdom long held by environmentalists and NGO workers: water is the new oil. When the bad guy, Dominic Greene (scheming, evil, and possibly French) demands that the soon-to-be-new-dictator of Bolivia grant him ownership of a barren stretch of desert, the General, the CIA, and of course the viewers assumed that he had secretly found oil there. Ha ha, not so fast! In fact, as Bond and the girl of the week discover, there is a massive underground lake. The moment he has the paperwork signed, Greene then turns around and offers the government a contract to supply water to the country at extortionate rates. Sneaky, non?

If only it were fiction.

The issues of access to water and water privatization were introduced to AID’s Global Scholar students this past summer by the Common Language Project, a group of journalists who work in association with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. CLP journalists have been reporting on water for some time, with a focus in eastern Africa. They’ve watched Lake Victoria’s water level drop, walked for miles with local women to find water each day, and seen residents of Kenya’s Kibera slum spend upwards of 5% of their income on water. (To put that in perspective, an average American family would be spending over $2500 each year on water, if the cost were proportional.) And that’s the good rate, without rationing or vendors collaborating to block the supply and up the price.

Look at Zimbabwe, where the government has shut off the water supply to the capital city in a last-ditch effort to contain a cholera outbreak that has claimed at least 560 lives. Take a moment and try to imagine yourself in that situation: desperately searching for water that, even if you find it, may kill you. What would you do? What could you do?

(On a less dramatic domestic level, look at companies like Nestle who are bottling groundwater in communities like my friends’ home in Michigan – yes, Ice Mountain water is actually School Section Lake.)

The Common Language Project’s great work on the water wars is showcased on the Pulitzer Gateway, where you can read and watch their stories and interact with students around the world sharing their experiences and opinions on water.

Also, check out the movie FLOW, soon to be on DVD, which digs into all of these water issues and more.

Then, take action.

That should keep you busy until 2010, when Bond will crash three Aston Martins in the name of fair trade…

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