Water, water everywhere, but will any of it be fit or free to drink? Not at this rate, warns renowned Canadian water warrior Maude Barlow in Blue Future, the final book of her Blue trilogy.The “unrepentant Canadian,” chair of the ass-kicking Council of Canadians since 1988, has been a proud thorn in the government’s side. Two years ago, she was arrested for civil disobedience protesting the Keystone Pipeline, and earlier this year she returned her Diamond Jubilee medal to the governor general in a show of support for Idle No More.Named the UN’s first adviser on water issues in 2008, Barlow was instrumental in the UN General Assembly’s historic 2010 move to recognize water as a human right.
If we keep H2O pristine and public, it will teach us how to live.
by Adria Vasil on NOW
Three years later she cautions that, despite the rise in water consciousness, the stage is being set for unprecedented global drought, mass starvation and millions of water refugees. In Blue Future, Barlow catalogues a vast array of H20 abuses due to fracking, tar sands extraction, biofuels, mining, austerity measures and privatization. But she still believes the story doesn’t have to end in tragedy.
Ecoholic talks to Barlow about the massive rethink needed to save the source of all life.
What do you think is the fundamental problem in our approach to water?
We need a new water ethic, making it a human right and a public trust; we need to [respect] that it has rights, and to understand it will teach us how to live with one another. If we allow water to be put on the open market like oil and gas, we’re going to see millions more people die.
How can we hold the Harper government to account?
This government doesn’t recognize the legal obligations it has, and has dismantled all the rules and tools protecting freshwater: gutting the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which means 99 per cent of our lakes and rivers are now unprotected from fracked or tar sands oil carried by pipelines. We are hoping the next step will be that First Nations use the UN resolution in their fight for clean water.
Can you talk about trends in privatization?
Water is now being bought and sold as private property. It’s not just the privatization of water services but the privatization of the actual ownership of water. The worst is in Chile, where they’ve privatized water absolutely everywhere and auction if off. Canadian mining companies come to Chile and outbid local and indigenous communities and farmers for these rights.
Also, the World Bank in the Global South and austerity programs in Europe are promoting public-private partnerships (P3s). Here in Canada, the Harper government has said that if municipalities want funding for water services, they have to go P3. There was a referendum (September 25) on a P3 for a waste water treatment plant in Regina. We lost that vote. It’s going to blow up right across the country, one city after another. Hamilton tried privatization and has gone back to a public system, as have municipalities around the world. Privatization has failed so badly. Private companies have to deliver services but also at least 15 per cent profit for their investors. To do that they lay off workers, cut corners or raise the water rates. Forty municipalities in France alone, including Paris, have taken water back from private companies. Only in Canada are we setting out to do something that has been proven a mistake in so many other places.
Why should Canadians be worried about the Canada-Europe trade agreement?
If we sign this, the two biggest water service [companies] in the world, Veolia and Suez, will be allowed to sue for millions of dollars in compensation if a municipality decides to go back to public water. The agreement is a noose around public water services.
Why don’t you support water metres on homes to encourage conservation?
I prefer taxation. This is a poor environment politically to ask for more taxes, so I think we need to shift the burden from families and small business, and charge licence fees to big commercial users. That does not mean any commercial user can access water if they pay. I oppose bottled water takings. In Ontario, users only pay $3.71 for a million litres; the public is subsidizing their profits. We have to fiercely manage water systems and care for them, and that can only be done under public and democratic control.
How can water teach us to live together?
We see conflict within and between countries over dwindling water supplies. I want people to think like the characters in those Hollywood movies when a comet’s coming. Suddenly, all the differences between people don’t mean anything, because it’s all going to be gone. There is a comet coming at us – it’s called the global water crisis, and we’re going to have to say, “I’ll give up an interest here for a larger good there; I’ll forgive an ancient hatred because we both have to survive on this watershed.” Water can be nature’s gift to teach us how to live with one another. It’s a peacemaking tool.
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