We need to take action to save the world’s water

By  Janet Malone, Catholic Register Special
  • March 11, 2007
waterWorld Water Day, March 22, affords us the opportunity to stand up, speak out and act to ensure our earth’s fresh water is protected as a public trust. Water is a right for the common good of all life forms, not a commodity for buying and selling to the rich by the rich.
Think about water as integral to an eco-spiritual worldview and a sacred symbol and source of life in most religions. Think about the sacredness of the Jordan, Ganges, Nile Rivers and the Red Sea. Think about Jesus asking for water at the well and then offering the Samaritan woman “living water” (John 4:10).

Life originated in the oceans and we receive “living” water through the hydrologic cycle  whereby salty water is transformed into fresh water by evaporation and redistribution, but in which no more fresh water can be added to this cycle. An astounding 74.35 per cent of the earth’s surface is water: 97.2 per cent of that is ocean, 2.8 per cent fresh water (lakes, glaciers, icecaps — all shrinking with global warming).

Less than one per cent of all  water is potable and the demand for clean water doubles every 20 years.  By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will not have enough water. In some developing countries, a child dies every 15 seconds from easily preventable water-related diseases.

We, in the West, use 350 to 1,000 litres of water daily while a person in a developing nation uses two to five litres. Did you know that Canada was the only country to vote against the 2002 United Nations resolution on the universal right to drinking  water and sanitation ?

We need a national water policy. Here’s why:

  1. When a government allows the privatization of water in public-private partnerships (P3s), the focus becomes profit, not life.  In the hands of  such “water barons,” water contamination rises because the necessary infrastructures and health standards go down (e.g. Walkerton and Kasechwan, Ont., North Battleford, Sask,) and water costs increase while quality decreases, the profit going to the corporation shareholders. Also, water crises such as shortages, contamination, exorbitant costs rise.

  2. Countries with more potable water (e.g. Canada and the United States with the Great Lakes freshwater system) are pressured to include water as a commodity for bulk export and sale under trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

  3. Multinationals like Pepsi’s Aquafina, and Coke’s Dasani are encouraging the habit of buying bottled water in mostly plastic bottles by planting seeds of doubt about the safety of public water. Did you know that 25 per cent of bottled water is our tap water with a bit of “reprocessing”, and the other 75 per cent is pumped from underground springs in many developing nations, thus depleting those nations in what is called “bottling the desert”?

Multinationals are paying lower municipal fees than many citizens, selling this water at costs as much as 5,000 times higher than a litre of tap water (2003 profits: $43 billion). In addition, the plastic components of the bottles  leech into the water we drink and eventually pollute the environment  if there is no system to break them down.  They simply pile up in landfills.
I offer the suggested resolution for consideration:

  1. Because we believe “fresh water is a sacred legacy, a public trust, a collective responsibility, a common good and a basic right for all living beings," we will act both globally and  locally to help stem the emerging global water crisis.

  2. We will join the World Water Justice Movement, supporting all life’s right to water and we will evaluate our progress each March 22,  World Water Day.

  3. We will lobby against the practices of current World Bank loans for water services in developing countries that require the privatization of those services, and/or increase water prices, thus making water a commodity for the rich.

  4. We will lobby our local governments to limit/ban the selling of bottled water.

  5. We will take the necessary steps to eliminate buying bottled water (in bulk or individual bottles) thus boycotting all vending of bottled water. No longer will we tote plastic bottles of water; we will fill our glasses/glass bottles with potable and affordable "blue gold" from our taps.                                                                         

(Malone, a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame, writes from Prince Edward Island.)

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