Mar 312010
Authors: Wade McManus

If you have lived in Colorado long enough, you are probably aware of the water issues we face. The problem can be summed up in one word — scarcity.

Fresh water is disappearing around the globe from excessive consumption, poor water management and pollution. As early as 2025, two-thirds of the global population may not have access to fresh water.

A terrible trend has started in the previous decades that make this scenario all the more frightening. Around the globe the responsibility of water management has fallen into the hands of multinational corporations like Coca-Cola, and their French corporations, Suez and Vivendi. Realistically, they have scrambled to win the right to water.

They manage the water business just like you would expect any corporation — to maximize gains. Just like any resource, the price of water goes up while it grows scarcer. And the global elite aim to make as much money as possible with disregard for social consequences.

In many impoverished nations the global financial institutes like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank coerce privatization.

Under mandate, corporations often adopt an infrastructure constructed and paid for by government, and they move in with promises of improving efficiency and water quality. But time and time again, they fail to follow through.

When water falls into the hands of corporate interests, the price jumps and the quality often worsens. The global poor are being out-priced for access to water.

In much of the global south families pay two-thirds of their monthly income for water, and in others, many people are denied access to a faucet.

The actions of these corporations should be considered criminal, yet they are predictably backed by neoliberal trade organizations like the World Trade Organization. Likewise, they have a monopoly of face time with global governing bodies like the United Nations and buy their endorsement.

They have entrenched themselves in the global water business.

Corporate elite smugly claim that privatization is the way to alleviate problems of scarcity; the market after all will balance itself. But water is not a commodity like soda.

Market economics do not account for social consequences, and people should not be denied access to water on the basis of poverty.
Economic incentives do not consider those who lack the ability to pay. Water should flow where it is needed and not to the highest bidder.

Some assume that privatization of water is necessary for effective management and the technological innovation needed to conserve fresh water sources and to distribute it rightfully.
This has not proven to be the case.

After privatization, there is a failure to maintain the water distribution infrastructure resulting in a massive loss of useable water, and in reality it would be in the corporation’s interest to even further limit access to fresh water to drive up the price (though I hope no one would be so perverted).

Much of the technology created to deal with these issues has compounded the problem. Desalination plants pump out billions of gallons of “clean water” (though concern is rising over its cleanliness). It also creates billions of gallons of a poisonous by-product that is pumped back into our oceans, not to mention increasing the concentration of salt in the very water that they are try to desalinate.

Private corporations are not equipped with the incentives or mindset needed to ethically conserve fresh water resources and to distribute it equitably.

Water is viewed as a human need that is sure to have a reliable market, and trillions of dollars are horded collectively. CEO’s and stockholders are making a fortune while the global poor are to drink the water those corporations contaminated.

Water is the basis of life and a human right. To deny access to water is to deny access to the right to live well.
Reversing this frightening trend will require water to be viewed not as a private good, but a public trust.

Wade McManus is a senior political science major. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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