Saturday, June 20, 2009

Freshwater industrialization, privatization and pollution

Two links for this blogs 20th post tagged 'water'.

Depraved Injustice and the Privatization of the Global Freshwater Commons by Frank Joseph Smecker is a critical look at the increasing privatization of the worlds freshwater resources.

Privatization is the preferred solution from those who brought us into this situation of scarcity and escalating conflict: traditional capitalist believers in growth seemingly unaware of the fact our ecosystem is finite. Smecker lists cases from around the world - USA, Canada, Belize, Argentina, The Philippines, Bolivia, Bolivia, Indonesia, South Africa, Australia, Sudan, Mexico, China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Syria, India, North and South Korea, Israel and Palestine, Egypt, Ethiopia and The United Kingdom - and sum up the adverse effects which are left unsaid by the privatization people; the observed cons rather than the imagined pros:
  • Prices go up. Especially problematic to poor people in developing countries who cannot afford the extra cost and are particularly dependend on water.
  • Pollution go up. Distribution by plastic bottles - preferred for monetization - is ridiculously polluting compared to locally extracted tap water plus the private water companies have poor environment track records.
  • Private water companies are multinational not local. Profits do not develop the exploited areas.
  • Water quality declines as it is only taken care of to a profitable minimum.
  • Ecological destruction of downstream habitat as ecosystems are derived of their water. Including threats to animal species populations (including salmon, steelhead and trout).
  • Failure to protect public ownership of water and water rights.
  • Wasted water and neglect of conservation.
The article does not solely blame industrialization, capitalism and privatization - climate change (itself a side effect of industrialization and population growth) is also pointed out.

Industrialized Farming Endangers World Food Supply by Karin Friedemann is a short, aggressive attack on multinationals and their taking over of not just the worlds water but its soils, sun, gene pools and political systems too.
The Oil-for-Food program in Iraq forced the large-scale importation of food after the first Gulf War. Devastated Iraqi farmers then became the victims of USAID. [..] Under US occupation, Iraqi farmers must pay a “technology fee” plus an annual license fee to agribusinesses supplying the seeds and equipment. [...] The war provides these corporations with both a lucrative short-term market in the blossoming “reconstruction” industry and an opportunity to integrate Afghanistan into their global production networks and markets in the long term.
In other words an example of 'disaster capitalism'. Essentially another route of aggravating our water issues as the top-down multinational approach to agriculture is based upon highly industrialized, export oriented mono-cultural farming.


  1. No-one gets water infrastructure for free. The problem with publicly owned water systems is that they don't get enough revenue, because politicians can't resist holding down the charges, and they don't get enough investment, because governments won't fund them. So they can't cover their costs and often end up verging on bankruptcy and unable to deliver service provision to the needy poor. Private water systems are less likely to have problems with investment (unless the politicians are holding down the charges again, which discourages investors), and are more likely to be run efficiently, but they obviously aren't going to give water away for free. So in each case, you only get what you are prepared to pay for. The poor usually end up having to pay over the odds for bottled water.
    BTW, the Smecker article here is long, boring and confused - needs an executive summary. Like bottled water, there's plenty of much clearer stuff out there. See for example:

  2. Andrew,

    Thank you for your comment. (Basically referring to Water for Life: The Impact of the
    Privatization of Water Services on Child Mortality

    I have to agree it's clear - because it really only argues that privatization attracts investments that governments of developing countries don't have. Plus of course the one example from Argentina where some mortality seems to have declined.

    What you call "long, boring and confused" I'd call "detailed, meticulous and spirited". In stead of just one example Smecker has numerous. And I'm sure he doesn't disagree that options for monetization attracts investments. It's just that there is a lot more to it than that - the moral issue of if natural resources shouldn't really belong to all of us, what happens after the investment is done, how about sustainability etc etc.

    Then there is the article itself (apparently unpublished?... from what journal?). Looking at the graphs at page 44 and 45 - which seems to be the cornerstone of the article - I'm sorry but I really don't see a very obvious significance. Mortality is dropping heavily each year for for private and public water areas. The difference in between these two groups isn't that large. Plus there may be factors leading to privatization that also affects health? (Anyway, may look closer at the statistics later.)

    Your own comments that "publicly owned water systems [...] don't get enough revenue" imho reveals an extremely closed mind. You see the situation from a economics-as-we-know-it-is-a-natural-law point of view. Who told you natural resources are destined to be turned into "profits"?


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