Mark Twain once said “whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” He was only half-joking. Nations have gone to war over water. Today, there is some kind of fight over water under way in almost every country, including the US. Who will control the world’s water, and for what purpose? Will water be a source of life, or a source of profit for the wealthy few?
Less than one percent of the Earth’s drinkable water is readily accessible for direct human uses. Drought, pollution, aging infrastructure, over-use by industry and agribusiness, and population growth are straining the water supply. By 2030, 47 percent of the world’s population will be living in areas of high “water stress.”
The wealthy investors who dominate the world see an opportunity. Ninety percent of the world’s fresh water is under public (government) control. The investors want to privatize the water and make it available only to those who can pay. They see a global market with an estimated value of $800 billion by 2035.
But millions of us can no longer afford to pay for it. In the US and across the globe, the economic system based on private ownership of the factories and other means to produce what we need is breaking down. The computer and the robot are replacing labor, wiping out the jobs, and the corporations and wealthy investors won’t pay to support labor they don’t need. The corporations and government in the US have merged to create a fascism designed to suppress any dissent and manage the economy for the benefit of the few. The drive to cut government costs and boost profits is part of this process.
You can see this corporate fascism at work in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan, where the emergency manager system has been used to overrule elected local governments and open the door to privatization of water and other assets. In Detroit, thousands of households have had their water cut off because they can’t afford to pay. In Flint, the emergency manager switched the city from lake water to dangerously polluted river water to cut costs. And in Baltimore, MD, 25,000 households are facing water shutoffs.
Some 146 million people in the US, or 48 percent of the population, are living in some form of poverty. Labor-replacing technology has created a new section of the working class, people of every color and nationality, whose labor is no longer needed in the capitalist economy. The ruling class has no intention of providing them with food, water, housing or anything else. These workers are forced to fight for a new, cooperative society, where the means of producing what we need to live are publicly owned. For them, this is the only way to survive.
In a cooperative society, we could solve the problems and guarantee the water supply while protecting the Earth. We could guarantee water and all the necessities of life to everyone. Water is a battlefront where we can make the need for a new society clear. Water must be publicly owned and managed in the interests of the people. As Bolivian water activist Oscar Olivera has said, “Water is the patrimony of the Earth and the patrimony of humanity. No one should own water.”