Water for the Commons!

by Adam

By T. M. Steiner

The war on water privatization tenaciously struggles on.  Corporations advocating water privatization aim only to gain further economic and political power and negate the public advocacy for the right of constituents to retain their community’s water supplies.  Globally, citizens are threatened by the commercial investments in their water supply with respect to cost, sanitation, and also lack of respect for the sustainability efforts.  There have been numerous accounts of reserve depletions and resource reduction in local communities.  For years, businesses have been trying to turn water into the new cash crop and profit off its bonds, but residents are fighting back.

According to an Investigative research article by Andrew Roth, The World Water Council has only recently pilfered a significant seat in politics, due to the water policy’s shift from public advocacy toward “organizations that favor the private water companies and the commodification of water” (Roth. 2012).  The conversion is a result of a flop in the United Nations deduction that water is an amenity rather than a vital requirement; it also consequentially resulted from their lack attentiveness to the impact placed on poverty stricken countries and budget deficits in local cities.  Profiteers; however, have picked up on this momentum and perceived it as an opportunity to gain access in the water industry for tremendous revenues, and solidification of their higher hierarchical status.

The main opposition to the water industry derives from the Corporate Accountability International organization, which coincides with efforts to protect the world’s people from a commercialized takeover.  The CAI leads the movements against corporate abuse in the areas of public health, human rights and the environment.  Recently, Corporate Accountability International criticized the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on the issue of water privatization, explicitly revealing the “perverse incentives for supporting the profits of water corporations, rather than the access outcomes that are the legitimate mandate of a development institution.”  The report “enumerates a range of conflicts of interest which arise when the World Bank, as part owner of water corporations, also holds itself out as an impartial advisor and expert, offering research, government advisory services, public relations and marketing of private water” (Corporate Accountability International.2012).

Additionally, as of 2010, the United Nations have declared the right to water and sanitation, a human right, as of 2010.  They have urged corporations within the water market to “ensure full transparency of the monitoring and assessment of the implementation of plans of action, projects and programs in the sectors of water and sanitation…” (2010).  In accordance with this announcement, Catarina de Albuquerque, U.N. Special Rapporteur recounted that “Governments have to integrate the human right to water and sanitation and aim at achieving access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all without discrimination … to protect human health and dignity, particularly for the most marginalized.”  Universally, there has been a lack of enforcement with respect to human rights of water and regulation with regard to corporations’ exploitation of community water resources.

As referenced in Mr. Roth’s article, scholar Donald Worster conceptualizes this occurrence, dubbing it the inner workings of a “hydraulic society”. Within his theory, he defines a society run by water power as “a social order based on the intensive, large-scale manipulation of water and its products in an arid setting;” further he characterizes, his most developed form of hydraulic society, as the “capitalist-state mode,” which incorporates “[T]he promotion of democracy, defined as the dispersal of power into as many hands as possible, is a direct and necessary, though perhaps not sufficient, means to achieve ecological stability…”  (Roth.21012). The conclusion or solution to this type of society renders complete dis-functionality.

As an example, the 6th World Water Forum in March of 2012, presented several water debates around the projections to create a balance between polarized viewpoints of private versus public involvement in the delivery of water and sanitation services.  With the drive towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and other such initiatives to reduce the amount of people who lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, this issue has come to the forefront as solutions become critical to ensure these goals are met. This debate used the different perspectives from the panel, in an informed and constructive manner, to look to the future for potential fair and equitable solutions within the provision of water and sanitation services.  Solutions were considered but none completely satisfied the requirements each opposition had expected (“worldwaterforum6.org”).

Finally, Roth’s “Water as a Commodity or Commons?” article concludes with, Maude Barlow’s statement on behalf of the alternative People’s Water Forum, that , “It’s no longer about the World Water Forum . . . [N]ow it’s about us and our vision.  The World Water Forum is bankrupt.  They’re bankrupt of ideas.  They’re bankrupt of money, frankly. And they have nothing to offer but what’s failed . . . It’s been a transfer of power” (Roth. 2012).

Concurring with Barlow’s proclamation, recent research proves that when profit is the sole objective, private corporations cut corners in ensuring water safety and quality to save money. Despite promises to the contrary, privatization often leads to rate increases and underfunded infrastructure (Urqiza.2012).  The alternative is to increase government funding in public water system.  Community water system provides several additional job opportunities as well, boosting economic gain further. As citizens, the rights are implemented now; the next step is to actively collect that which is already bestowed upon us.  It is now the rights of the individuals’ to take control over the delivery and conduction of their water and its sources.  Privatization of water can no longer be withheld in the tight gauges of corporate concern; commercialized institutions are not accepting the responsibility to ensure our declared human rights.  It is now the government’s obligation to surrender the rights of public water to the commons.  These are the solutions needed to bring the power back to the populations.

T. M. Steiner is a third year sociology and criminology undergraduate student at Sonoma State University.



Roth, L. Andrew. 2012. Water As Commodity or Commons? Issues From the 2009 World            Water Forum. Retrieved 9/22/12. https://www.projectcensored.org/top-         stories/articles/water-as-commodity-or-commons-issues-from-the-2009-world-water-   forum/.

Corporate Accountability International. Water: Challenge  Corporate Control of Water.      Retrieved 9/22/12.  http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/campaigns/challenge-      corporate-control-water.

The World Water Forum. Post Forum Highlights 2012. Retrieved 9/22/12.              http://www.worldwaterforum6.org/en/

Moore, Derek. 2012. Sonoma Council Unanimously Rejects Water Rate Hike. The Press    Democrat. Retrieved 9/22/2012.       http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20120916/ARTICLES/120919661?p=2&tc=pg&     tc=ar

Urquiza, Kristin. 2012. Keep Water Supply in Public Hands: Public Water Works. The       Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 9/22/12.  http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/news/keep-      water-supply-public-hands.