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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Water privatization in India

A long article on Counterpunch describes the effects of "globalization" and privatization on the rights of most Indians to fresh water. Excerpts:
Private theme and water parks in and around Mumbai are found to be using 50 billion litres of water daily. This, while countless women in the slums and chawls of the city wait hours in queues for 20 litres.
Bazargaon is a scarcity-hit Vidharbha village that has one sarkari well and gets tanker water once in ten days. It is also host to the giant 'Fun & Food Village.' An elite park which offers 18 kinds of water slides and uses millions of litres as a matter of course. All Bazargaon's water flows towards this 'village.' It's a story repeated in different ways in many places, across many states. Water as a commodity, flows from poor to rich areas.

In Yavatmal, a Maharashtra minister asks farmers at a meeting to "diversify into dairying." The crowd jeers. (Vidharbha has seen over 425 farm suicides in ten months.) The problems of water and irrigation loom large here. "You want us to take up milk production?" scoffs a farmer, rising to his feet. 'When you pay us a price of Rs. 6 for a litre of milk, but pay Rs. 12 for a litre of your bottled water?"
People pay more for water than corporates do. The bottled water brigade got treated and cleaned water in Hyderabad for 25 paise a litre for years. This goes into that bottle costing Rs. 12. [My friend Sanjay tells me there are 100 paises to a Rupee, so this represents a 48-times increase in the price. Don't be too shocked; anyone buying bottled water here is paying a bigger markup than that--and why? Just love throwing money at corporations, I guess.] In many parts of the country soft-drink giants get it almost free. Whole communities lose out as heavyweights like Coke step in. That company used 283 billion litres of water worldwide in 2004. Enough, points out the India Resource Centre, to "meet the drinking needs of the entire world's population for ten days."
The corporate hijack of water is on worldwide and one of the most important processes of our time. The World Bank and the IMF help ram it through. Water privatisation has often been shoved into their loan conditionalities in the past decade.

In few nations will the damage be as terrible and complex as in India. Here water use is already very unequal. Most irrigation and drinking water in India, for instance, has a clear caste geography. Even the layout of our villages reflects that. The dalit basti is always on the outskirts, where there is least access to water. Barring dalits from the main water sources of the village are not just about the 'social' horror of untouchability. It is also about curbing their access to this vital resource.

It is also closely tied to the framework of class. About 118 million households -- 62 per cent of the total -- do not have drinking water at home. As census household survey data analysed by Dr. S. L. Rao show, 300 million Indians draw water from community taps or handpumps. (Many World Bank and Asian Development Bank projects, by the way, will end up doing away with those community taps.)

Globalization kills. As simple as that.