Water Water

Southern Spain is facing the worst drought since record was first begun. Crops are failing, reservoirs running empty daily temperatures are in the mid to high 40’s and last week here in Velez Blanco it hit an amazing 55C.  In nearby Portugal97% of the population  are living in near drought conditions. Fires in both countries are now a regular occurrence and only last week 14 fire fighters died fighting one of the hundreds of fires that have taken place.

Urbanisation, golf courses and swimming pools

“Thanks to what meteorologists call "unusual" climatic circumstances, including freak rain which ran off the land without replenishing the water tables, much of Europe is now bone-dry, dun-brown and baking. There has been barely any steady rain for a year or more in many places and it’s dawning on the EU and the authorities of half a dozen countries that this pan-European phenomenon will affect everyone and could well continue into next year.”  Scorched Earth  –  John  Vidal in the Guardian

The problem as I see it here in Spain  largely to do with the incredible growth in urbanization mainly holiday homes for Northern Europeans who do not seem to have an understanding of water conservation. The holiday home and tourism boom has resulted in demands by everyone for a swimming pool and golf courses that  litter the Spanish costas. Velez Blanco, a mountain village, which has always had plenty of water is now facing similar problems as the coast as more and more British move in and for every new house there is a new pool. Recently after much debate and objection my local farmers, a huge golf complex with 2000 housing units and a hotel is being built in the area. Like other projects in small towns and villages there is not much to be gained by locals as builders are imported, food imported, service providers are imported often from Northern European countries. Even where local labour is used the sum benefit to the local community is invariably negative especially when water and the environment are compromised.

One 18-hole course can use as much water in a year as a town of 10,000 houses.

"You need about nine liters of water per square meter per day to keep a fairway or tee looking green, "As the average 18-hole course is about 360,000 square meters and needs watering about 300 days a year, it means that they need a lot of cubic meters.

Another possible contributory factor is the large scale intensive farming that takes place in drought prone regions of southern Spain in Murcia and Almeria.  Whether the drought is caused by global warming or is simply cyclical one thing is sure that too much water is wasted and there needs to be a serious rethink on how we use water and what we use it for. In my local village we have two springs that provide all our drinking water for free. Everyone is supposed on only use 25 liters a time which I think is a fair amount. Yet people come from miles around and leave with 100s of liters of the mineral based spring water every week — GREED and that is where the real problem lies. Someone once came with a tanker to fill up from the spring till the Mayor put a stop to cars stopping outside the taps.

Privatisation of Water

Some 3000 miles south of Velez Blanco, Niger is experiencing yet another drought and death. There appears to be a number of reasons why there is now a drought crisis in Niger: failure of rains last October / November;  Niger was attacked by the locusts that swarmed most of West Africa last year and early this year; the government of Niger playing games pretending that the situation was not that bad; because Niger is  poor and has always been poor and poor people have voices but no one listens — requests for aid fell on largely deaf ears. $30 million requested so far $10 million has been  received. Condoleeza rice on a visit to West Africa Senegal misses Niger but promises Senegal money as long as they sell to the US what the US wants at the price US demands and in return for the import of US products.

Niger is one of the countries in receipt of World Bank/IMF funds on condition that utilities are privatized — one of those utilities is Water. In March this year thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Niamey in protest against water privatization. Privatization of water is one of the main demands the G8 are imposing on those countries seeking debt relief and further aid.

Privatisation of water is not the cause of the present drought. Niger is a desert country, part of the Sahara; there is very little rain; the majority of people in Niger are poor;  Niger cannot afford to privatize water and privatization of water will lead to further pauperization of the people of Niger and it will also have a negative impact on health care and other public services. 

In South Africa six privatisation contracts have been awarded to mainly French companies (Saur, Suez and Vivendi) since 1992 (Public Services International Research Unit)

The losers have been the poor communities for whom the right to water which is a fundamental and inalienable  human right, is denied. There have been increases in  environmental pollution, preventable diseases, violence between neighbours and communities as people steal water from each other and a loss of dignity.    In Ghana
for example water charges increased by 95% in a country where 35% of the population has no access to clean water.   In 2000 South Africa   had the worst outbreak of cholera as a direct result of the inability of poor communities to pay for water.

Mineral Water

Developing communities across the globe, from Niger to South Africa, from Spain and Portugal  and across the Atlantic to Brazil are feeling the impact of multinationals as they exploit water sources, privatizing domestic supplies and or  commercializing natural spring water and then selling that water back to the source countries.

Brazil has 17% of all the reserves of underground drinking water and most of it is in the San Lorenzo region.  San Lorenzo  waters are famous for the minerals they contain which local people believe have healing properties. However the waters are now being taken over by Nestle who have begun pumping millions and millions of liters of San Lorenzo’s natural waters and bottling them for sale.  BBC  –  Face the Facts

“This is a threat to the whole region because Nestle have illegally demineralised it and have pumped far too much water………This is not just a Brazilian issue,  it is a planetary issue and a powerful example of the future that lies ahead of us.”

“Pure Life” is not just bottled water it is a concept. The idea behind it is that it is purified water and must be the same whether in Asia, Africa or   Brazil. So they take the water, demineralise it, clean it and then put the same amount of minerals back into the water”. 

Nestle is the global leader in the exploitation of water across the globe. It has 67 bottling factories and sells in more than 130 countries.  In Pakistan, Nestle, the world leader in bottled water, invented a “blue print factory” that could be shipped to any location in the world. It chose Pakistan for a number of reasons one of which is it is the only country in the region that has an unregulated ground water sector which means anyone can simply dig a hole and extract as much water as they want without paying a penny. The water “Pure Life” has been produced in Pakistan, Asia, Africa and South America includingSan Lorenzo.

Nestle market the product as  "Capturing nature in it’s purest form".    

"By the end of 1997, the Group was present on every continent, and the purchase of San Pellegrino gave it the leadership in the Italian market. In 1998, for the first time in its history, Nestlé associated its name with a bottled water: Nestlé Pure Life……. The brand was launched in Pakistan and soon appeared in Brazil, followed by Argentina, Thailand, the Philippines, China, and Mexico in 2000. In 2001, India, Jordan, and Lebanon followed, and in 2002, Egypt, Uzbekistan and the United States."

In short Nestle  now owns  and distributes "nature"  on "every continent".

The damage done by Nestle to the local community is irreversible. It is so delicate that even the cars and parking are impacting on the environment. Nestle is so arrogant that it doesn’t even care that it doesn’t have a license to remove the waters. Nestle proceeded with its exploitation of San Lorenzo water by building a huge wall around its bottling and processing factory that is so deep, it is disturbing the water reservoirs. The pumping of ½ million liters a day has already impacted on the healing spa waters of San Lorenzo  and the small local businesses that rely on tourism for their income.   

The people of San Lorenzo have taken Nestle to court for the illegal and excessive exploitation of the water. The Court ordered the factory to close, Nestle appealed and the ruling was annulled pending a final judgment which is still awaited some 4 years on.  The ruling has allowed Nestle to continue with the factory and damage to the environment as the ground water continues to sink. The only concession Nestle made was to stop demineralising the water. What Nestle will do when it has finished up the supply of San Lorenzo water is  pack up the pre packed factory  and then simply move on leaving the local community with no water, no income, a wasted environment and all the rubbish from its factory.

Communities across Brazil have begun a campaign to protect the countries water reserves from privatisation. The ideology driving the campaign is one that we need to take up in Africa, Europe and across the globe.   

"Water is a most important issue. It is not a merchandise, it is the source of life”. There are many areas where private enterprise can work and get money but not in this fundamental area of water and the environment”.

Nestle has recently introduced its Pure Life water to the Nigerian market with an aim

"to evolve from a food company to a nutrution, health and wellness company."

implying that Nestle’s Pure Life water will be part of the solution to solve Nigeria’s  water supply and sanitation problems.

It is not just in the developing world that Nestle is operating and meeting resistance to its comodification of water. In the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada
residents have also been fighting a similar battle. The Great Lakes region supplies 20% of the world’s surface water. Sanctuary Springs like San Lorenzo is an ancient spring and wildlife preserve.

5 years ago when locals found out that Nestle planned to build a factory to draw millions of liters of water from the waters that supply the Sanctuary Spring, they objected. The people told Nestle “you are not wanted here” they did not believe Nestles plan would work without compromising the environment.  As in San Lorenzo locals took Nestle to court to prevent them from operating in the region. Again the initial court ruling was in favour of the residents. However again as in San Lorenzo, Nestle appealed the ruling and the plant went ahead with its pumping of water. The damage that has been done to the water flow and wildlife is again irreversible. 

Only 1% of the worlds water is available for human and environmental needs and multinationals such as Nestle, Suez and Vivendi are very quickly taking ownership of this most presious resource.  As citizens of the world we should join this woman from the Great Lakes and ask

 Why should some corporation have the right to come in here for the privatization of our water. It just does not make sense to me and I know that I am right and the David and Goliath battle I will fight it to the end.

Tags: