The following blog was submitted by Hyun Sik Chu, a graduate student in FST, as part of the requirements for GRAD 5414 Water for Health Seminar Interdisciplinary Seminar. This course examines emerging interdisciplinary issues related to the chemistry, microbiology, engineering and health aspects of drinking water.
According to the United Nations, Water Security is:
“the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.”
It is commonly acknowledged that water is a public resource that is freely available to people who need it. However, that is no longer the case, as shown in the “Blue Gold: World Water War” by Sam Bozzo. We live in the time where water has become a valuable commodity than rather than a public resource.
We all acknowledge that water is essential for the survival of human beings. Most people can agree that something so necessary should be available to everyone equally and freely. However, the biggest problem is that there is only a limited quantity available for human consumption . Only 1.69% of total water is available as freshwater, which has led to the social inequalities based on the accessibility to freshwater.
So then, how freely available is freshwater to everyone?
In the USA, we pay water bills. But that’s because not all water is accessible and/or potable. The bills pay for the transportation of water to your house as well as the treatment required to make it potable. And this concept of cost for clean water management seems to make sense. We pay for the service but not the good.
However, the story changes a bit when water becomes commodity to be sold around the world. It is the good that we pay to consume. Access to potable water is not evenly distributed across the Earth. And multinational companies use the concepts of convenience, accessibility and “clean” water to create a commodity that can be sold for a premium price.
Creating an industry that did not previously exist also created a problem that wasn’t there before. With the transportation of water, it became no longer equal right and even share. As described in “Blue Gold: World Water Wars” by Sam Bozzo, California is desperately drawing in water into big cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose and this ends up draining the local water sources for others in order to provide for those cities . The inconsiderate transportation of water resulted in the draining of 56 of 700 reservoirs by January 2015 . This means, in the people in those regions are now seeing droughts that didn’t exist before water started to be moved into the big cities.
Privatizing water resources creates water security problems. This occurs when water from natural sources (such as a spring) is bottled and sold for a premium price. Selling water like a commodity can seem very harmless. After all, those companies invested in treating the water and put effort into selling it. Also if we disagree with them selling the water, we can just not buy it. However, the root of the problem is much deeper than that. One example mentioned in “Blue Gold: World Water Wars” is Kenya’s water problem. Their lack of proper water processing and distribution systems lead to full dependence on bottled water. The issue deepens when the big multinational corporations take advantage of this situation, and sell their water at premium prices. For Kenyans, clean water costs more than carbonated beverages!
Water is a basic need for everyone. However, misuse of water can lead to limited water availability. Therefore, people need to be aware of the importance of educating themselves on proper water usage, local water supplies, and conservation of this limited resource. Multinational companies need to rethink water as a good from which they can profit. And individual households need to realize that fresh, potable water isn’t going to spring from the tap indefinitely.
- March 19. 2014. How much water is there on, in, and above the Earth. The USGS Water Science School. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html
- Madrigal, Alexis. Feb 24. 2014. American Aquaduct: The Great California Water Saga. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/02/american-aqueduct-the-great-california-water-saga/284009/
- Campbell, John. Feb 27. 2015. Using Every Drop of Information: the Open Water Data Initiative. United States Geological Survey. http://www.usgs.gov/blogs/features/usgs_top_story/using-every-drop-of-information-the-open-water-data-initiative/?from=image
- Bozzo Sam. 2008. Blue Gold: World Water Wars. Documentary
- UN. 2013. Water Security & the Global Water Agenda. A UN-Water Analytical Brief. United Nation.