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'Tapped' exposes private water companies

Sunday, October 21, 2012

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Written by Peter Miller

Nestle has just received a second 5 year permit from the Ministry of Environment to pump water at a rate as high as 1.1 million litres a day from a well in Hillsburgh.

According to Maude Barlow, the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, and an advocate for water to be a fundamental human right, “The marketing arm of Nestle is larger than the world health organization.”

As well, for Barlow, “The worst thing we can do with [our water] is give it to a corporation that advocates for the privatization of water in the third world.”

Barlow spoke before the screening of the film Tapped at War Memorial Hall on Monday, October 15.  The Council of Canadians, the Wellington Water Watchers, and the Central Student Association sponsored the event.

Tapped takes a critical look at the privatization of water in the United States and Canada. It looks at the affects of the privatization of water on local communities, negative environmental impacts of bottled water, and also negative health affects that can occur from chemicals leaching in from the plastic of bottled water.

Tapped was supposed to screen in Guelph for an event during the summer. Wellington Water Watchers and the City of Guelph partnered on a series of films but when Nestle Waters heard that Tapped was going to be screened, John Challinor, director of corporate affairs at Nestle wrote a letter to Mayor Karen Farbridge. The city caved in shortly afterwards and decided to cancel the film screening.

The event included a speech from Maude Barlow, the screening of the film, and a panel discussion where participants at the event could go up and ask questions to Patrick Cieslar, a member on the board on the Wellington Water Watchers; Dominica McPherson, the External Affairs Commissioner of the CSA; and Maude Barlow. Organizers were happy to see such a well-attended event.

Undergraduate students voted overwhelmingly in a referendum last winter semester to ban bottled-water from the campus. The Central Student Association organized the referendum, and proponents called for a ban of bottled-water because of its negative social and environmental impacts.

One negative environmental impact of bottled-water is that 17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of water bottles annually. The industry contributes to the releasing of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. As well, only 1 in 5 water bottles are recycled. The rest ends up as waste in our dumps, and often in our rivers and oceans.

Meanwhile, access to safe, public drinking water is an issue around the world and even in many communities across Canada. For instance, over 80 First Nations communities in Canada are currently under “boiled water advisories” and the federal government has failed at addressing first nation’s water and wastewater treatment needs. Meanwhile, 3 billion people have no running water within a kilometer of their homes and it is estimated that every 8 seconds a child dies of water-born disease-deaths. These deaths would be preventable if clean drinking water was available.

Private water companies are relentless in their pursuit of profit. Not only do they advocate for the privatization of water in the third world but they are actively pursuing new markets in First Nations Communities.

Despite the democratic vote by students, Hospitality Services and Administration at this school have not as of yet complied with the call from students to ban bottled-water.

In 2002 the Federal Government was alone in voting against a resolution calling for access to clean water and sanitation to be a human right at a meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The Harper Conservatives repeated this act in 2006 and 2008.

Meanwhile, at the Municipal Level in Guelph, members of the planning and building, engineering and environment committee voted against taking action to ban bottled-water from municipal property.

In a recent article from the Guelph Mercury, City Councillor Cam Guthrie is quoted as saying “I think we should allow choice.” This is the same argument made by private corporations that profit from bottled-water. These companies will state that consumers should be given the choice to buy bottled-water. 

But water should be a human right, and all should condemn the privatization of such an essential resource. Bottled-water has a place in disaster relief, in this case providing needed clean water as a quick fix to people in need, but water management and resources, as well as the substance itself should always be a public resource. Companies should never be able to profit from such an essential element for human life.

The same argument that calls for consumers to have the choice to buy private health care contributes to the gutting of another essential public good that many Canadians strongly believe in: universal healthcare.

The committee was also unable to endorse a proposal to officially oppose any privatization of water services in Guelph.

During the drought this past summer, Nestle Water was permitted to pump water at the same capacity as usual from the same underground source that this city draws water from, at the same as residents were told to conserve the amount of water they consumed.

Meanwhile, Patrick Cieslar highlighted at the event that Nestle Water pays one third of one percent the amount that our municipality pays for public water, from the same ground water source.

During the event, speakers spoke about how we should all be concerned with the amount corporate influence in our governments.

Barlow pointed out a study from Coca Cola, that found that “Demand for water will outstrip supply by 30%” in 2030."

Private water companies want to profit from such a high demand for water. It is estimated by the World Bank that the value of the water market today is 800 billion dollars.

Participants learned during the event that it takes movements and active opposition from people to push back against privatization of water, and strong corporate influence that wishes to increase their bottom line.

During the referendum that called for the banning of bottle-water, students showed that they believe water should be a public good, and profiteering from an essential element for life is unethical. Bottled-water has been banned on 14 campuses across Canada.

Unfortunately, Guelph’s municipal government has not banned bottled-water yet from Municipal Property.

The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Blue Communities progam is working to pressure municipal governments to ban bottled-water, and later move up to pressuring the provincial and federal government to take the same action.

There is hope that step by step, communities can pressure governments to ban bottled water, and in doing so, defend water as a public good.

 

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