Ban Sale of Water for Profit, Health Activist Says

Chelsea Lane-Miller
National Geographic News
November 5, 2004

"Blue gold." "The essence of life." The phrases reveal the importance many attach to water, the natural resource most fundamental to human survival.

The debate continues over who owns, or should own, water. But few dispute that the abundance of fresh water resources on Earth is decreasing. And no one can deny the deep dependence of all life-forms on the vital liquid.

Maude Barlow, an activist and chairperson of the Council of Canadians, a consumer nonprofit, is one of the most outspoken opponents of the privatization of world water resources. Campaigning to have water declared as a human right, Barlow has written the book Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water, and has contributed to the essay collection Whose Water Is It? published by National Geographic Books.

National Geographic News recently spoke with Barlow by telephone from her home in Ottawa, Ontario.

Where are problems of water distribution greatest?

Twenty-two countries in Africa are without [safe drinking] water. People just have no access. South Africa is in very, very serious trouble.

[In] many parts of Latin America, although there is water, the ordinary people have no access to water unless they're wealthy. Mexico City is running out of water. The whole Mexican Valley is in serious trouble.

China is paying for its economic miracle, becoming the economic superpower of the world, so-called, by destroying its water tables. Two-thirds of the cities in northern China are now in severe water scarcity situations. Seventy-five percent of all of India's rivers and waterways are polluted beyond use, as are 80 percent of China's. You just can't overstate it.

There are two [reasons] water doesn't reach people. One is that the actual geographic area is running out of water. The other is that there's no delivery, no ability for people who can't pay to get it.

Latin America is a good example of a place that has an abundant water supply, generally. There are desert areas, but by and large in Latin America there is water. But it doesn't get to the people. That's more political than about scarcity.

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