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By Cristian Frers
Water promises to be in the 21st century what oil was in the 20th century, the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations. It is not pure semantics ... You cannot buy a right. In recent times, large corporations have come to control water in much of the planet and it is speculated that in the coming years, a few private companies will have monopoly control of almost the 75% of this vital resource for life on the planet.
Water emerges as the greatest geopolitical conflict of the 21st century since it is expected that in the year 2025, the demand for this element so necessary for human life will be 56% higher than the supply ... and those who have water could be the target of a forced looting. It is estimated that for the 6.250 million inhabitants we have reached, 20% more water would already be needed. The struggle is between those who believe that water should be considered a commodity or a tradable good (such as wheat and coffee) and those who express that it is a social good related to the right to life. The scope of national sovereignty and legal tools are also part of this fight.
To understand the problem, it is necessary to consider a string of data based on the extraction, distribution and consumption of water - the Bible or the Koran shows it - that have the age of the world; that have given rise to conflicts of great magnitude. What is new in the case is that, for a decade, the figures have accumulated that presage that the planet is heading towards an increasingly marked scarcity.
The problem is that water is a resource that occurs in many places, it is very scarce for the 1,100 million people who lack access to drinking water, to which should be added another 2,400 million people who do not have access to adequate sanitation.
More than 2,200 million inhabitants of underdeveloped countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with the lack of clean water, adequate sanitation and hygiene. In addition, almost half of the inhabitants of developing countries suffer from diseases caused, directly or indirectly, by the consumption of contaminated food or water, or by disease-causing organisms that develop in the water. With sufficient supplies of clean water and adequate sanitation, the incidence of some diseases and death could be reduced by as much as 75 percent.
In most regions, the problem is not the lack of fresh drinking water but rather the mismanagement and distribution of water resources and their methods. Most of the fresh water is used for agriculture, while a substantial amount is lost in the irrigation process. Most irrigation systems operate inefficiently, losing approximately 60 percent of the water that is withdrawn, evaporating, or returning to river beds or underground aquifers. Inefficient irrigation methods carry their own health risks: waterlogging in parts of South Asia is the main determinant of malaria transmission, a situation that is repeated in many other parts of the world.
Almost half of the water in drinking water supply systems in developing countries is lost through leaks, illicit connections and vandalism. As populations grow and incomes increase, more water is needed, which becomes an essential element for development.
In some areas, the extraction of water has had devastating consequences on the environment. The water table in many regions of the world is constantly decreasing and some rivers, such as the Colorado in the United States and the Yellow in China, frequently dry up before reaching the sea. In China, the northern water tables have dropped by thirty-seven meters in thirty years, and have dropped by one and a half meters every year since 1990. The Aral Inland Sea in Central Asia has already lost half its size. Lake Chad was once the sixth largest lake in the world, today it has lost almost 90% of its surface and is dying.
This resource is such a necessary commodity that it could become the subject of political fights, if viewed only as a business: dams, irrigation canals, purification and desalination technologies, sewage systems, and wastewater treatment. Water trapping should not be forgotten, since it is a business that outperforms the pharmaceutical industry.
The origin of this commercialization of water would have to be found in November 2001, when natural resources, as well as health and education, began to be the subject of negotiations in the WTO (World Trade Organization). The final goal is the liberalization of public services by 2005. This sounds arid and boring, it can be simplified: what until now was regulated by the states, will become a free trade market.
Within this context, there are two likely scenarios:
-The territorial appropriation:
This could be done by buying land with natural resources (water, biodiversity), a military conflict is not ruled out either. This last hypothesis transports us to the last war in Iraq (March 2003) and the appropriation of the big US oil companies of Iraqi resources. It is not ruled out that with this war they wanted to control the water resources of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers ... mighty rivers in one of the driest areas on the planet.
-The privatization of water:
In recent times, large corporations have come to control water in much of the planet and it is speculated that in the coming years, a few private companies will have monopoly control of almost 75% of this vital resource for life in the world. planet.
Governments around the world –including developed countries- are abdicating their responsibility to protect natural resources in favor of companies, according to them, to improve service provision. Large corporations are not many. France's Vivendi and Suez (ranked 51st and 99th respectively in the 2001 Global Fortune 500). Germany's RWE (ranked 53rd), which acquired two major water companies, Thames Water in the United Kingdom and American Water Works, in the United States of America. Private intervention led to an exaggerated increase in the cost of water in some places. In the Province of Tucumán - Argentina-, the Vivendi company faced popular fury and in South Africa the company concessioned with the supply had no problems in closing the tap of 80% of the residents of Alexandra Township due to lack of payment.
The World Bank plays a key role, promoting privatization - lending money for reforms in the water system - investing and finally as judge in case of conflict between investors and states.
While populations do not have access to sanitation, large corporations sell pure bottled water to correct the evil. Between 1970 and 2000, the sale of water grew more than 80 times. In 1970, one billion liters were sold in the world. In 2000, 84 billion. Profits were $ 2.2 billion.
The largest known aquifers are:
1) Nubian Sandstone Aquifer with a volume of 75 billion cubic meters.
2) North Sahara Aquifer with a volume of 60 billion cubic meters.
3) Guaraní aquifer system with a volume of 37 billion cubic meters.
4) Large Artesian Account with a volume of 20 billion cubic meters.
5) High Plains Aquifer with a volume of 15 billion cubic meters.
6) North China Aquifer with a volume of 5 billion cubic meters.
The Guaraní Aquifer:
The aquifer is 132 million years old. Its origins date back to when Africa and America were still united. Its extension has the known dimensions of the American continent: 1,190,000 square kilometers, a surface greater than that of Spain, France and Portugal combined. It is known as the Giant of MERCOSUR because this immense reservoir of pure water extends from the pantanal in the north of Brazil, occupies part of Paraguay and Uruguay and ends in the Argentine pampas. It is even suspected that, at enormous depths, the aquifer is connected with the lakes of Patagonia. The total volume of stored water is immense. The currently exploitable volume is 40 to 80 cubic kilometers, a figure equivalent to four times the total annual demand of Argentina.
Research on the Guaraní Aquifer System (SAG) was, until 1997, in charge of the University of Santa Fe and Buenos Aires, the University of Uruguay and several Brazilian Public Universities. But as of that date it became part of a project financed by the World Bank and everything was tinged with suspicions.
In Argentina, through a study carried out by Elsa Bruzzone, a worrying conclusion was reached: The cyclical presence of the Commander of the US Army South, in the Triple Border –Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina-, the declaration of the State Department and the rumors that there would be terrorists there has one objective to control the Guaraní Aquifer System (SAG), a veritable ocean of underground drinking water that has its main recharge point there.
Brazil also shouted in the sky, declaring through Aurelio Garcia that: the US put the World Bank and the Organization of American States in charge of a project that seeks to detect the magnitude of the resource, ensure its use in a sustainable way, avoid contamination and maintain permanent control until when it is considered convenient.
Those who defend the initiative of the Organization of American States assure that due to lack of money in the universities, the support of contributions from the GEF was sought, a fund where all the countries of the world put money to develop environmental studies and projects. A good project was presented and it was approved, which means that the money invested in that fund is somehow being recovered. The World Bank handles the contribution. It is like the account operator of a bank.
The scope of the water problem not only points to the pocket of any consumer, but it is a blow to the stomach of the prevailing market fundamentalism in the global village, for which everything has a price and even more so what is scarce. Fortune magazine said: Water promises to be in the 21st century what oil was in the 20th century, the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations. It is not pure semantics ... A right cannot be bought.
Cristian Frers - Senior Technician in Environmental Management and Senior Technician in Social Communication