December 17, 2012

Happy Mon. Dark and cold here. -43 in the flats, colder than yesterday, when the low was about -37. Yesterday I wore my bunny boots for the first time this winter. Makes driving a bit clumsy.

We watched a thought-provoking and somewhat depressing documentary called “Flow: How Did A Handful of Corporations Steal Our Water?” The subtitle pretty much summarizes the plot. What’s interesting is that the story is global, and there are extended surveys of corporate takeovers of local water resources in Bolivia, India, Bangladesh, South Africa, and the US. The major culprits are multinationals like Nestle, Coca-Cola, Suez Water, and Vivendi.

They tap groundwater in an area, suck it dry, and sell the bottled water all over the world. Many of the brands you see on the shelves are produced by the same company. Consumer testing has shown that as much as half of all bottled water is no better than local tap water, but it sells for more than gasoline, hence big money is at play and the poor are the first to suffer when their community well runs dry due to overpumping by a corporation.

In some parts of the world, principally Africa and India, as many as one in ten children under five die from drinking bad water. It’s rough on the elderly also. The film presents the view that water is a human right, because it is a necessity of life, and should not be treated as a property right available to the highest or most powerful bidder. The film-makers predict that people driven to desperation will revolt. We shall see.

One sequence shows what happened when Nestle opened a bottling plant in Michigan and drained the water table. Relatively well-to-do US citizens fought them in court and after a long battle got them to close the plant, but not before there was serious damage to the surrounding communities. Here in Alaska we don’t worry much about water, but in many parts of the world a crisis is developing that will test the power of masses of people versus the wealthy few out to make a buck regardless of the cost to others.

This film should be required viewing in high schools and in college classes if only to begin an informed conversation about whether access to water is a human right. Some viewers have found it “preachy,” but the on-site views of pitiful and unsanitary village water systems around the world will open your eyes. From the public library, but also available from Netflix.


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