Friday, February 15, 2008

Blue Covenant

Last year's drought made many of us aware of the scarcity of America's, and the world's, fresh water supplies. Millions of Americans, particularly in the Southeast and West, have recently been experiencing water shortages. Most of the solutions proposed so far have been along the lines of moving water from areas where it is perceived as being abundant to areas of shortage. Thus the West dreams of running a giant pipeline to Canada, and Georgia wants to run a line up to the Chattanooga area to tap the Tennessee River, which basically drew a response of "hell, no" from Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.

Maude Barlow is an environmental activist who has been thinking about the worldwide water problem. She has already co-authored one book, Blue Gold, on the economics of the water crisis, and she now has followed up with Blue Covenant, about grassroots responses to ensure that all the people of the world have sufficient water resources available to them.

Barlow lays out the challenge in the introduction: "Life requires access to clean water; to deny the right to water is to deny the right to life." Much of Barlow's concern is focused upon the ongoing privatization of water resources in many parts of the world. Several multinational corporations view the water shortages as an opportunity for profit-taking, a version of the phenomenon that Naomi Klein has termed "disaster capitalism".

In an Alternet interview, Barlow explains the reasoning behind the "blue covenant":

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Legislation won't change the heart, but it will restrain the heartless." We need legislation at every level of our government. It is all well for grass-roots people to do all their wonderful work -- but they shouldn't have to do all the work. We need laws at every level, from municipal up to state to national to international, that protect water ecologically on one hand and protect the notion of a human right and right of the earth, and not a commodity, and that is so fundamental.

That is why I call the book "blue covenant" -- we need a covenant of three parts -- from humans to the earth to stop destroying the lifeblood of the earth, from the rich to the poor (global north to the south) for water justice, not charity -- justice. Water should be a fundamental right for all generations, and no one should be allowed to sell it for profit. We want this right up to the United Nations. It is a struggle at every level. But we just keep going. The fight back around the world is claiming space, but we have to have the weight of law behind us. We have to make, as a society, decisions about what matters. And if we believe that people shouldn't die because they can't afford water, then we have to bring things to bear to make that happen -- we have to change things. If the World Bank has money to give to Suez or Veolia, they've got the money to give to a public agency.

Barlow is co-founder of the Blue Planet Project. Their website has lots of information on the world's water resources and ideas for activism to fight privatization and insure that everyone has access to clean, safe water. It's well worth checking out.