Student Researchers: Christina Van Straalen, Mike Graves,
Faculty Evaluators: Tom Jacobson Ph.D., Tom
Lough Ph.D., Leilani Nishime Ph.D.
International Forum on
Globalization: Special Report
June 1999/ from PRIME July/10/2000
Title: The Global Water Crisis
and the Commodification of the World’s Water Supply
Author: Maude Barlow
Title: Just Add Water
Author: Jim Shultz
In These Times
Water Fallout: Bolivians Battle Globalization
MAY 15, 2000
Author: Jim Shultz
Title: Water Fallout
Author: Jim Shultz
Title: Monsanto’s Billion-Dollar Water Monopoly Plans
Author: Vandana Shiva
San Francisco Bay Guardian
May 31, 2000
Title: Trouble on Tap
Author: Daniel Zoll
San Francisco Bay Guardian
May 31, 2000
Title: The Earth Wrecker
Author: Pratap Chatterjee
Corporate News Coverage: Toronto Globe & Mail 5/11/00
Global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years, more than twice the
rate of human population growth.
United Nations, more than one billion people already lack access
to fresh drinking water. If current trends persist, by 2025 the demand for
fresh water is expected to rise by 56 percent more than the amount of water
that is currently available.
Multinational corporations recognize these trends and are trying to
monopolize water supplies around the world.
Monsanto, Bechtel, and other global
multinationals are seeking control of world water systems and supplies.
World Bank recently adopted a policy of
water privatization and full-cost water pricing. This policy is causing
great distress in many Third World countries, which fear that their citizens
will not be able to afford for-profit water. Grassroots resistance to the
privatization of water emerges as companies expand profit taking.
San Francisco’s Bechtel Enterprises was
contracted to manage the
water system in Cochabamba, Bolivia, after
the World Bank required Bolivia to privatize.
When Bechtel pushed up the price of water, the
entire city went on a general strike. The military killed a
seventeen-year-old boy and arrested the water rights leaders. But after four
months of unrest the Bolivian government forced Bechtel out of Cochambamba.
Bechtel Group Inc., a corporation with a
long history of environmental abuses, now contracts with the city of San
Francisco to upgrade the city’s water system. Bechtel employees are working
side by side with government workers in a privatization move that activists
fear will lead to an eventual take-over of San Francisco’s water system.
Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, Canada’s
largest public advocacy group, states,
“Governments around the world must act now
to declare water a fundamental human right and prevent efforts to
privatize, export, and sell for profit a substance essential to all
Research has shown that selling water on the
open market only delivers it to wealthy cities and individuals.
Governments are signing away their control over domestic water supplies by
participating in trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) and in institutions such as the World Trade
Organization (WTO). These agreements give transnational corporations the
unprecedented right to the water of signatory companies.
Water-related conflicts are springing up around the globe. Malaysia, for
example, owns half of Singapore’s water and, in 1997, threatened to cut off
its water supply after Singapore criticized Malaysia’s government policies.
Monsanto plans to earn revenues of $420 million and a net income of $63
million by 2008 from its water business in India and Mexico. Monsanto
estimates that water will become a multibillion-dollar market in the coming
UPDATE BY MAUDE BARLOW
Maude Barlow is the National
Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and a director with the
International Forum on Globalization.
This story is of vital importance to the earth
and all humanity. The finite sources of freshwater (less than one half of
one per cent of the world’s total water stock) are being diverted, depleted,
and polluted so fast that, by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s
population will be living in a state of serious water deprivation.
Yet governments are handing responsibility of
this precious resource over to giant transnational corporations who, in
collusion with the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, seek to
commodify and privatize the world’s water and put it on the open market
for sale to the highest bidder.
Millions of the world’s citizens are being
deprived of this fundamental human right, and vast ecological damage is
being wrought as massive industry claims water once used to sustain
communities and replenish nature.
Recently, a civil society movement has been created to wrest control of
water back from profit-making forces and claim it for people and nature.
Blue Planet Project, this movement is an
alliance of farmers, environmentalists, Indigenous Peoples, public sector
workers, and urban activists who forced the issue of water as a human right
at the March 2000 World Water Forum in the Hague.
The Project is holding the first global
citizens’ summit on water in Vancouver in July 2001. One major project has
been support of the water activists in Cochabamba, Bolivia, who, led by
union leader Oscar Olivera, forced the giant engineering company
Bechtel to leave the country and stopped a World Bank-imposed privatization
scheme that more than doubled the price of water to the local people.
The mainstream press has been reluctant to tell this story. Our fight in
Canada started with concern over the potential of bulk water exports sought
by some politicians and corporations. Water is included in both NAFTA and
the WTO as a tradable good; once the tap is turned on, corporate rights to
water are immediately established. But our mainstream press generally
supports economic globalization and these trade agreements and will permit
only selective reporting on opposition positions.
Blue Gold, my paper on the
commodification of water published by the IFG in 1999, has been printed
in several languages and sold all over the world but has been ignored by the
North American media.
The story of the destruction of the world’s remaining freshwater sources is
one of the most pressing of our time; there is simply no way to overstate
the nature of this crisis. And yet when the mainstream media report on
it-which is not nearly often enough or in sufficient depth-they seldom ask
the most crucial question of all.
Who owns water? We say the earth, all species
and all future generations.
Many in power have another answer. It is time
for this debate.
For more information on this story and the
Blue Planet Project, please
contact The Council of Canadians:
address, 502-151 Slater Street, Ottawa,
ON. Canada, K1P 5H3
UPDATE BY JIM SHULTZ
Eight months have passed since the people of
Cochabamba forced the departure of a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation
and restored control of the region’s water supply into public hands. The
story has brought unprecedented attention to the issue of water
privatization and important events continue to unfold, both locally and
Locally, Cochabamba’s residents are working closely with the newly
reconstituted water company, SEMAPA, to extend water service to more
In Alto Cochabamba, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, a
community water tank had remained uncompleted for years and became a local
trash dump. Today the tank is in full operation, bringing public water into
the neighborhood for the first time. Civic leaders say they are building a
utility that is run by the people rather than by corrupt politicians or an
overcharging corporation beyond local democratic reach.
As a direct result of the Democracy Center’s reporting, Cochabamba’s water
rebellion is also drawing substantial world attention and solidarity. In
December, a delegation of leading citizen action and labor groups from the
U.S. and Canada came to Cochabamba for an international conference on water
These groups and others have also pledged their
support against Bechtel’s latest attack, a lawsuit for as much as $20
million-compensation for losing their lucrative Cochabamba contract. It is
an action that pits one of the world’s wealthiest corporations against the
people of South America’s poorest nation.
Bechtel has been actively shopping for the friendliest international forum
possible and apparently has decided its best chances lie in a suit under a
Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) signed previously between Bolivia
Late last year Bechtel quietly reshuffled
corporate papers to place its subsidiary under Dutch registration, in
preparation for such action.
International groups are gearing up to help
Cochabamba leaders fight Bechtel’s lawsuit.
“This is going to be the first major
international civil society fight against a corporate legal action under
such a treaty,” says Antonia Juhasz of San Francisco-based International
Forum on Globalization.
The Democracy Center’s articles, which ran
primarily in the progressive press and were distributed widely via the
Internet, also attracted publication in some dedicated city dailies, such as
the San Jose Mercury, San Francisco Examiner, and Toronto Star (thanks to
distribution by the Pacific News Service).
Most mainstream coverage of the story, however,
was limited to the dispatches of the Associated Press Bolivian
AP correspondent Peter McFarren came under fire for
stories that eagerly repeated the Bolivian government’s and Bechtel’s public
line, falsely blaming the water uprising on “narco-traffickers.”
One reader of the Democracy Center’s articles
noted the difference in the reporting and uncovered that McFarren was, at
the same time, actively lobbying the Bolivian Congress to approve a
controversial project to ship Bolivian water to Chile. When that conflict of
interest was reported to AP, McFarren suddenly submitted his resignation.
More information on the story, including subscription to the free e-mail
newsletter in which the stories originated, is available at “www.democracyctr.org”.
UPDATE BY PRATAP
Engineering News-Record magazine ranks
Bechtel as the biggest construction company in the United States; it is also
the biggest private company in northern California.
It has built mega-projects from the Alaska
pipeline and the Hoover dam to the San Francisco Bay Bridge, from natural
gas pipelines in Algeria to refineries in Zambia. Hardly a day passes
without the company signing a new contract somewhere in the world; all told
it has worked on 19,000 contracts in 140 countries in the past century, many
of them with taxpayer money.
Yet an extensive review of Bechtel contracts
over the last 100 years shows that time and again the company has been found
guilty of sleazy political connections.
In fact, if there’s a pattern to Bechtel’s
public works projects, it’s this:
The company works under cover of the utmost
secrecy and routinely jacks up the cost of projects far beyond the
original bid, sticking taxpayers with huge, often unexpected bills.
If these cost overruns do generate some
headlines, the environmental and social impacts of the company’s
construction activities rarely get a mention:
managing bombsites for nuclear testing
helping hack off the top of a sacred
mountain on the Pacific island of New Guinea to build the world’s
largest gold mine
planning pipelines for Saddam Hussein in
drawing up development plans for a man
accused of killing half a million Hutu refugees in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (former Zaire)
building toxic refineries for Chevron in
Richmond that destroy the San Francisco Bay
Bechtel’s management and spin doctors went into
overdrive when staff at headquarters read the San Francisco Bay Guardian
story and started to ask hard questions.
We obtained an internal memo that explained why
they had decided not to respond to the story:
“We’re not currently considering legal
recourse (for) a number of reasons:
To win a libel or defamation lawsuit,
Bechtel would have to show that the journalists, activists, or
politicians in question either knew that such statements were false
or entertained serious doubts about their accuracy. This could be
very difficult to prove.
A lawsuit would give Bechtel’s most
vocal critics another public forum in which to reprise their claims.
Defense attorneys would be permitted to engage in wide-ranging
discovery into Bechtel’s nonpublic business affairs-including making
substantial document requests and taking depositions from Bechtel
employees-to probe whether or not the critical claims were true.
Bechtel would have to prove the amount
of damages suffered as a result of the alleged defamation.
would have to demonstrate some monetary loss, which might be
difficult (and would, again, open us up to discovery of data).”
The mainstream press regularly writes about the
contracts that Bechtel wins and completes but they rarely ever dig deeper to
find out about the impact of these projects.
No mainstream press has ever looked at a broad
overview of the company’s history or been able to probe into the company’s
inner workings: this is partly because the company refuses to give the media
access to the company staff and management.