Only two and a half percent of the planets fresh water supply is suitable for drinking and less than one percent is available to humans and ecosystems, the rest being locked away in the Arctic and Antarctic regions in the form of snow and ice [Pacific Institute Publications]. In addition, access to this limited and crucial resource is not equitably distributed amongst the global populace. Twelve per cent of the world's population uses eighty-five percent of its water and 1.2 billion people in the developing world are denied adequate access to clean drinking water [Water and Development]. The lack of proper water sanitation measures within these countries has resulted in 250 million water related diseases and 5-10 million deaths annually, creating an economic strain on developing countries due to health spending [Pacific Institute Publications]. Some corporations have come to view the threat of scarcity and limited water access in developing areas as an opportunity to create a profit and have attempted to turn the common good of water into a commodity by privatizing the once public resource. Fortunately, a simple solution utilizing the natural purification of water through the hydrological cycle can be implemented, giving independence and social and economic gains to struggling regions.
Water purification through the natural hydrological cycle is a relatively straightforward process that does not require any additional infrastructure and can be executed efficiently off the power grid. As water is heated by the sun it evaporates, leaving salt and other dissolved substances behind so that the water vapor which condensates is pure and can be collected and used for drinking [Water Purification]. This system relies only on solar energy, some simple equipment, and the natural water cycle, but its impacts on a community can be great. A solar powered purification system the size of a microwave is capable of producing three gallons of purified water, under appropriate weather conditions, in a single day [How To]. While three gallons of water for a full days worth of effort may seem inefficient, the average person needs only a minimum amount of 1.3 gallons of water a day [Pacific Institute Publication]. In addition, purification systems of a larger scale can be implemented to increase daily production and allow for excess water to be stored for later use, resulting in a decrease in the amount of time and energy dedicated to water collection. Bigger scale projects may also be built and maintained by a number of people in a community which relieves individuals from everyday maintenance because the burden is shared.
Even when developing nations can afford a sanitation plant and the infrastructure to provide running water to its citizens, these systems are often only able to reach families living in urban areas. This is because it is often too expensive to run water pipes deep into rural areas where a relatively smaller portion of the population live. This means there is an increasing need to provide some type of water sanitation system that is able to operate off the grid. Harnessing the power of sunlight for a condensation purification system acts a a reasonable solution to this issue of environmental injustice.
The act of collecting water is a physically exhausting and time consuming process. In rural Africa, the responsibility of collecting water is left to the women of the community. These women are forced to walk up to ten miles a day, often carrying infants and heavy clay pots in order to obtain their daily water supply. After hours of walking these women must then spend further time waiting in line to access the water source. In addition, these wells are often times polluted; creating health hazards [Problems for Women]. A simple water purification system and would not only improve health conditions within local communities, proper storage of any excess water would reduce the time and energy expenditures necessary for water collection. Time that was once spent retrieving water could then be allocated towards more productive activities, such as working, food production, and caring for children, boosting the income, nutrition, and health of the household [Problems for Women].
Millions of people die annually due to water related diseases that would have otherwise been easily prevented through proper sanitation measures. In Sub-Saharan Africa, five percent of the region's GDP, equivalent to about 28.4 billion dollars, is lost due to costs associated with health spending and productivity loss created by water related diseases [Water and Development]. The economy of these areas benefit as a result of improving health conditions through increasing water quality. Less money is appropriated to health spending, due to a decrease in the occurrence of disease, and the health and productivity of the labor force increases. The country of Guinea, located on the north western side of Africa deals with 75,386 malaria cases for every 100,000 people. That's over 8 million cases for a population of roughly 11 million people. When such a large fraction of the workforce is sick from water borne deceases such as malaria the economy of that developing nation will suffer, which can in turn reduce the GDP.
While economic conditions in developing nations have the opportunity to improve through the proper investment in water sanitation, multinational corporations are impeding on these countries progress towards self-sufficiency by privatizing water resources. While privatization has the capability to improve water sanitation for the public good, most companies buy up water rights and increase costs, forcing citizens to return to polluted water sources infested with disease. Instead of the water rights being under the control of those who depend on the resource, the corporation manages the water and can also drastically increases water tariffs. Companies like Nestle and Suez enter countries and turn the region's municipal water systems into lucrative businesses [Water Usage]. These corporations own water systems across the globe, which earn them around $200 billion annually, while only serving seven percent of the world's population [Water Usage]. Private water companies are urging for legislation that would require poor, municipal governments to consider water privatization in exchange for federal funding [Fact Pack]. The World Bank is also prepared to increase investments to $1 billion annually in privatization efforts [Group to World Bank]. This push made by corporations towards legislation and projects favoring water privatization is of little surprise considering the profits that are to be made. The World Bank and IMF argue, however, that commoditizing water is more cost efficient and is a necessary step towards progress. These organizations claim that by bringing water and sanitation into the private sector, a billion people would be provided with clean and affordable water worldwide and that the private sector could offer needed funding for sanitation projects [Campaigning]. However, in order for water privatization to be equitable, there must be additional legislation, such as price ceilings, in order to allow the general populace to have access to clean water. This could present a challenge considering the often unstable political environments in developing countries where sanitation measures are needed most.
In spite of the claims made by the World Bank about the benefits of privatization, the failures of this practice can be seen in multiple case studies. In 1999, Bolivia's government granted a 40-year contract to Aguas de Tunari for control of Cochabamba's water system. Bolivia is South America's poorest country, with two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line and an annual per capita income of $950. Bolivia was subject to water privatization as a stipulation for being able to borrow money from the World Bank and IMF. Within weeks of Aquas de Tunari's take over, water tariffs increased by 200-300%. Unable to afford the ever increasing water tax, protests were staged in attempts to have the contract cancelled. After dozens were injured and six deaths occurred as a result of the spreading protests, the contract between the Bolivian government and Aquas de Tunari was broken on April 10, 2000 [Water Privatization]. Another example of the destruction and social injustice that seems to follow water privatization is the case of the Coca Cola Company's activities in India. In 1998, the Central Ground Water Authority classified the village of Kala Dera's ground water as being "over exploited". A year later, the Coca Cola Company constructed a new bottling plant in Kala Dera. Over the nine year span of Coca Cola's presence within the village, ground water levels dropped 22.36 meters (73.4 feet). The decreased ground water levels caused agricultural yields to drop, women were forced to travel vast distances to retrieve water, and the quality of the remaining ground water was severely compromised [Coca Cola in India].
In addition to Coca Cola's monopolization of the area's ground water resources, a byproduct of the bottling factory was thousands of pounds of toxic sludge. To dispose of the carcinogenic waste product, the company sold it as "fertilizer" to local farmers. High levels of pesticides were also found in the soft drinks being produced, leading to country wide bans. Some farmers were even reported as using Coca Cola as a low-cost substitute to the more expensive pesticides offered by Monsanto [Science Blogs]. By giving oppressed regions a simple and effective means of providing themselves with the basic human necessity of clean water, you are offering them independence. Access to pure drinking water reduces water related diseases and deaths and creates a healthy and productive work force. This allows developing regions to work towards economic autonomy, making them less vulnerable to large corporations looking to dominate their local water systems. The ability to store this purified water also aids in the economic and social progress of developing nations. Women are no longer forced to travel long distances for water that could be potentially hazardous to their health. Instead, the energy and time that was spent retrieving water can now be focused on more productive activities, such as working, food production, and taking care of children. All these activities boost income, help families provide adequate nutrition, and generally improves the health and well being of the household.
Notes and references[edit | edit source]
- "Campaigning to Keep Water as a Public Trust." Water For All. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Coca Cola in India." N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Fact Pack." Water Privatization -. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Group to World Bank: Stop Funding Water Privatization | Common Dreams." Common Dreams. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "How to Build a Solar-Powered Water Purifier." - For Dummies. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Pacific Institute Publications." Pacific Institute Publications. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Pacific Institute Publications." Pacific Institute Publications. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Problems for Woment." Water Aid. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Science Blogs." The Primate Diaries. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Water and Development." - Global Issues. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Water Privatization Case Study: Bolivia." Public Citizen. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Water Purification Through Water Cycle." Water Quality Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
- "Water Usage and Privitization." Food Is Power. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.