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Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2006

    Excellent case for public ownership of water services

    This excellent book makes the case for public ownership and control over our water services. In the past ten years, three giant global corporations, France¿s Suez and Vivendi Environnement, and Thames, have seized control over the water supplied to almost 300 million people in every continent. Vivendi increased its water revenue from $5 billion in 1990 to over $12 billion by 2002, RWE from $25 million in 1990 to $2.5 billion in 2002. These companies claim to be `passionate, caring and reliable¿, yet they push for higher rate increases, frequently fail to meet their commitments and abandon a waterworks if they are not making enough money. As Suez¿s Chief Executive Officer said, ¿Water is an efficient product. It is a product which normally would be free, and our job is to sell it.¿ In France, charges for privatised water services are 13% higher than for public services. For two months in 1998, after privatisation, more than three million residents of Sydney were forced to boil their drinking water to kill parasites. Fifteen months after the city of Adelaide signed a contract turning over its waterworks to Thames Water and Vivendi, the city was engulfed in a powerful sewage smell, `the big pong¿. New Jersey, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Manila and Jakarta have all experienced problems after privatisation. In 1996 Hamilton in Canada experienced its worst-ever sewage spill, when 48 million gallons of untreated human waste, heavy metals and chemicals flooded into Lake Ontario. Atlanta, Georgia, gave control over its water to Suez five years ago, and quality and service dropped. The city returned control to the public utility. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, after Aguas del Tunari, a Bechtel subsidiary, took control of the city¿s waterworks in 1999, it raised water bills 100%. The contract allowed the company to close down people¿s private wells unless they paid Aguas del Tunari for the water. Union leader Oscar Olivera said, ¿They wanted to privatise the rain.¿ The city¿s people organised a referendum. Most voted to end the contract and forced Bechtel out of the country. Similarly, in 2000 the people of Grenoble succeeded in returning their water and sewage system to public control. In Iraq, the US state put Bechtel in charge of rebuilding the water and sewage systems. But, as the U.S. Agency for International Development reported, ¿Baghdad¿s three sewage treatment plants, which together comprise three-quarters of the nation¿s sewage treatment capacity, are inoperable, allowing the waste from 3.8 million people to flow untreated directly into the Tigris River.¿ A UN survey in May 2004 found that 80% of families living in rural areas had no safe water. Only 64 of 249 planned water projects have been completed. In 1999, South Africa initiated five water privatisation programs, aiming to make people pay the full cost of having running water in their homes. As Nelson Mandela had said, ¿Privatisation is the fundamental policy of our government. Call me a Thatcherite, if you will.¿ Consequently, ten million South Africans had their water cut off for various periods, forcing people to get water from polluted rivers and lakes, leading to South Africa¿s worst outbreak of cholera. More than 140,000 people were infected and 265 died. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) says that 98% of whites, but only 27% of blacks, had access to clean water in their homes in March 2001. A smaller proportion of the population has access to water than in 1994. In rural areas, only 2% of blacks had indoor plumbing. Two million people have been evicted for not paying utility bills. Many poor families pay 30% of their income for water. Despite South Africa¿s rating by the United Nations Development Index as a middle-to-upper-income country, one child in 22 dies before reaching the age of one, often from diarrhoea caused by poor water. The 13% white minority is 18th on the Human Development Index, equal to New Zealand. The black majority is 118th, in

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2005

    Reach for the Gold, wind up Blue

    Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke¿s Blue Gold is a good introductory book about the ongoing corporate takeover of the world¿s water resources. With a highly encompassing overview of the situation, it touches on several bases for the layperson. Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, the authors, seem to be very intelligent people who care deeply about the subject. However, with as much useful information as this book may contain, it is also riddled with errors that make it impossible to get behind what the authors are saying. This book is definitely best read by not taking it too seriously. The book has its shining moments covering the private investors who are buying up the world¿s water supply at a rate that increases every year. They site an article in the May 2000 Fortune that stated to the world that, ¿Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations¿(p. 104). The article urged investors towards water, calling it ¿a safe harbor in stocks¿ and further explaining that water ¿promises steady, consistent returns well into the next century¿(105). The book states that these independent water investors, combined with the ¿Global Water Lords¿ (the term coined for the multinational corporations that own a good portion of the world¿s water supply) have control of most of the world¿s water supply. It never says directly how much of the water is under private ownership, but it does cite two companies, Vivendi International and Suez as having monopoly control¿ over 70 percent of the world¿s water. Also interesting in the book are the many historical accounts it relates, offering little bits of insight into how the water situation got to where it is today. One especially interesting one, found early on page 18, concerns Mexico City¿s problems. Paraphrasing from the book, Tenochtitlan, the Aztec city that occupied the space where Mexico City is today, was an island city ringed by lakes. When the Europeans invaded in 1521, they tore down the Aztec buildings but also filled in and drained their lakes. It was decided that, as the capital of New Spain, the former city of Tenochtitlan should resemble Madrid, not Venice. This filling in of the lakes coupled itself centuries with rampant expansion of Mexico City and pillaging of the vast water table underneath. As a result of this pairing, the city is slowly sinking into the huge underground air pocket that now sits where the water reserves once were at a rate of about 20 inches annually, according to Barlow and Clarke. However, I do not know how accurate that statistic is. One of my biggest complaints about this book is that Barlow and Clarke offer plenty of numbers in the early chapters whose sole function is that of shock value. On page 23, they state that, ¿¿conservative estimates predict that annual industrial water use in China could grow from 52 billion tons to 269 billion tons in the next two decades¿. Please note the use of the word conservative. One estimate in a recent report from the International Food Policy Research Institute that can be found on their website, ifpri.org, state that China should only expect a 25% increase in water consumption by the year 2025. In my search, I could not find a single estimate higher than the 400+% increase mentioned in Blue Gold. So we have a so-called ¿conservative¿ estimate that is not only about 16 times higher than other estimates but also higher than every estimate out there. So-called ¿estimates¿ like these are found in every chapter and on nearly every page in the first three chapters of the book. These shock value numbers deeply undercut the credibility of the authors. The above quote also points to another issue with the book. Whoever is responsible for these conservative estimates is never named. Nor are many of the other statistics and generalizations ever sourced. Many of these can be let go, assuming they are comm

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2010

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