By Dr. Mercola
Water is the most basic requirement for life. If Earth had no water, life as we know it would not exist. You can go only a few days without water if you hope to survive.
People in the West often take water for granted. You turn on your tap and out it pours – like magic. But with Earth’s natural resources stressed by population growth, pollution and climate change, access to clean water is not a given.
Many scientists predict we are heading into a global water crisis, the likes of which have never before been seen with any other natural resource.
An award-winning documentary called FLOW: For Love of Water investigates the water crisis, described as one of the most important political and environmental issues of the 21st Century. Irena Salina builds a case against the growing privatization of the world's dwindling fresh water supply with an emphasis on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel.
The film exposes many of the governmental and corporate culprits behind the water grab, while posing the question, “Can anyone really own water?”
Beyond identifying the problem, FLOW also explores practical solutions to the water crisis and new technologies that offer promise for a successful global and economic turnaround.
Water, Water Everywhere...
Most people don’t realize that only 10 percent of the world’s fresh water supply is used for homes. The remaining 80 percent is used by agriculture (70 percent) and industry (20 percent).
The average American uses 150 gallons of water every day, yet those in developing countries can scarcely find five gallons. Of the seven billion people on Earth, 1.1 billion don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water.1 Water-related disease kills more people than wars, and nearly half of the victims are children.2
It’s estimated that between 500,000 and seven million people get sick each year from drinking contaminated tap water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not regulate the 51 “known” water contaminants.3 But those are just a drop in the bucket compared to the vast number of human-made chemicals finding their way into the public water supply. There are more than 116,000 human-made chemicals now detected in public water systems, according to William Marks, author of the book Water Voices from Around the World.
Even if your water seems plentiful, it may not be as pure as you’d like. And the water quality is getting worse as industries continue dumping their toxic sludge back into rivers and streams, all in the name of the almighty dollar. Even if you drink only purified water, you’re not immune. Many of water’s more volatile pollutants enter your body through your skin and lungs while you shower.
Water and Its Contaminants Are Circling the Globe
According to FLOW, the most common water contaminant is a chemical called Atrazine. Atrazine is an herbicide manufactured by the Swiss company Syngenta. It has a number of terrible biological effects and has been completely banned in the EU – which is interesting, since that’s where it’s made. But the ban doesn’t stop the EU from selling 80 million pounds of it to the United States every year, where it’s sprayed on crops from coast to coast.
Atrazine has been shown to “chemically castrate” frogs, feminizing the males and even causing them to grow ovaries. This demasculinization can diminish sperm counts in animals and humans, and has been linked to breast and prostate cancer. You don’t want this sprayed on your food – and certainly not 80 million pounds of it!
The Earth has a water cycle, with weather systems and ocean currents dispersing and moving water, in its various forms, all around the planet. Whatever is dissolved in the water circles the globe as well... pharmaceutical drugs, heavy metals like mercury, pesticides, etc.
This water cycle has returned Atrazine to the EU, where it’s turning up in their rainwater. All sorts of pollutants are being found in remote locations, such as the arctic, far from their points of origin. Pharmaceutical drugs are turning up in fish and wildlife. For example, in Texas, toxicologists have discovered high levels of Prozac in the tissues of every fish they sampled. Clean water is becoming harder and harder to find, even in remote and “pristine” regions of our planet.
The Emergence of a Water Cartel
Traditionally, governments have delivered water to the public as a service. But over the last decade, with growing economic pressures and water shortages, water is turning into a commodity to be bought and sold. A few large multinational corporations have begun delivering water on a “for profit” basis and making big money, as a result.
According to FLOW, the three largest players in the water industry are Suez, Vivendi, and Thames Water. In fact, water is now a $400 billion global industry – the third largest behind oil and electricity!4
Unfortunately, when you make the shift to commercialization, the product goes to the highest bidder. And this means that millions of people who can’t pay the price go without. Water privatization has placed human health in peril. Bad water kills more people worldwide than anything else.
Poor countries like Bolivia and India are, of course, the hardest hit – but could the West be heading in the same direction? Could the land of plenty become a dry and barren landscape where clean water is a luxury reserved for the wealthy? Water is necessary for survival, and whoever “owns” the water owns you. Could nations soon be fighting over clean water in the same way they’ve spent decades dueling over fossil fuel? Many scientists say this is exactly where we are heading, and soon – not in the distant future.
The environment is changing. Human industry has disturbed the delicate ecological balance of our planet. Climate change is evidence of the many stresses humankind has inflicted on the planet. Water IS running out. Many major rivers don’t flow all the way to the sea, as they once did. California’s water supply is already compromised. According to Maude Barlow, author of Blue Covenant and co-author of Blue Gold, California’s water supply will be completely dry in about 20 years. Private industry is making matters worse instead of better, in many cases. One of the worst is the bottled water industry.
Bottled Water: A Blight on Planet Earth
Worldwide, $100 million is spent annually on bottled water. In 2010, Americans purchased 31 billion liters of bottled water, typically paying upwards of $1.50 per bottle, which is 1,900 times the price of tap water. And approximately 40 percent of bottled water actually IS just tap water that may or may not have received additional treatment.
Tests indicate bottled water is often less pure than city water, because city water has tighter regulations. An independent test performed by the Environmental Working Group revealed the presence of 38 low-level contaminants in bottled water, with each of the 10 tested brands containing an average of eight chemicals. They detected disinfection byproducts (DBPs), caffeine, Tylenol, nitrate, industrial chemicals, arsenic, and bacteria.5
When you drink bottled water, not only is the water itself potentially contaminated, but the plastic bottle it comes in may haveserious risks of its own from chemicals that leach into the water from the plastic,such as BPA and phthalates.
In a scientific study by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC),6 more than 1,000 bottles (103 brands) of water were tested for purity. About one-third of the bottles contained synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria and arsenic. As shown in the documentary, companies like Nestle that are bottling water suck most of the water out of nearby streams, turning rivers into mudflats. Lake levels drop and sinkholes form near the bottling plants. Most of these companies pay nothing for the water, or for the damage to the environment – not a penny! Many don’t even contribute to local taxes. And yet, these companies make upwards of 1.8 million dollars per day in profits. Bottled water is clearly not the answer.
Dams Displace People and Destroy Ecosystems
Even if you’re educated about the negative impacts of bottled water, you may not be aware of the problems dams have posed for the environment and local communities. Dams have displaced millions of people worldwide over the past century. The promises made to people in order to persuade them to move so that a dam can be built are rarely kept, leaving people without food or crops or any means of survival, and without legal recourse.
Dams also disturb the balance of an ecosystem that took thousands of years to evolve. When a river is dammed, organic matter that ordinarily flows downstream to nourish many forms of life gets trapped behind the dam and begins to rot. This not only disturbs the downstream ecosystem, but the rotting matter releases methane into the atmosphere, one of the primary greenhouse gases that is accumulating too rapidly.
So what is the answer to the water crisis?
It boils down to conservation and decentralization. We need to employ small water harvesting structures that can serve people at the community level, instead of massive dams and pipelines that are costly to build and maintain. We already have natural disinfection technology, and it’s surprisingly cost effective. Water can’t be treated like a commodity. Every human being should have access to clean water, regardless of socioeconomic status or geography.
Fresh Water for Only PENNIES Per Person
The United Nations estimates it would cost an additional 30 billion dollars per year to provide clean drinking water to every person on the planet. Sounds like a lot of money until you consider we spent three times that amount on bottled water last year alone! Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Senior Scientist Ashok Gadgill said the annual cost of providing 10 liters of clean drinking water to every human being, every day, is just $6 USD. You do the math. That’s less than two cents per day. Imagine how illness and death rates would fall!
Clean water has saved far more lives than vaccines7. Every year, diarrhea causes two million deaths, and 1.5 million of those victims are children.8 According to Unicef,9 bad water kills 4,000 children per day. It costs $20 million to vaccinate those 1.5 million children against rotavirus so that they don’t develop the diarrhea that can kill them.
On the flip side, the same amount of money – $20 million – is enough to provide wells, clean water and irrigation pumps to 100 million families. If you figure each family has a father, mother and two children, that means with the same investment it takes to vaccinate 1.5 million children for rotavirus, you can provide clean water to 400 million individuals, which will also help prevent other enteric diseases such as cholera and polio. At the same time, it will irrigate their crops and essentially lift those families out of poverty.
If instead you only vaccinate the children in that 400 million, you're spending $2.8 billion just on rotavirus vaccines alone. Nor will they have clean water, wells, or a means to financial freedom. In addition to clean water, lack of sanitation and basic hygiene education are problems that must also be addressed if we are to help children around the world.10
Bill Gates Pushes Vaccines, Instead of Safe Water and Sanitation
You might think the world’s top philanthropists would jump at the opportunity to improve the health of their fellow humans by funding clean drinking water and sanitation projects. But the big money is not going toward clean water – instead, it’s going into the pockets of big industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry. Even vaccine magnate GlaxoSmithKline admitted to the WHO11 that safe drinking water has a greater impact on reducing mortality rates than vaccines and antibiotics, but that’s more lip service than action.
For example, Bill Gates, the biggest philanthropist in the world, continues to channel his billions into vaccines. It’s tragic when you realize clean water and hygiene education are far more effective at reducing the spread of disease than any vaccination campaign.
The latest example is Gates’ African malaria vaccine campaign, which has been an abysmal flop.12 Despite this, he continues to push vaccines. It’s pretty clear where Mr. Gates' loyalties lie. But is this really a surprise, coming from a man who suggested vaccines could be a means of reducing Earth’s population by 10 to 15 percent? Gates unabashedly proposed this idea as a way to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions during a Ted presentation in February 2010.13 When philanthropy fails, it’s time to effect change at the local level. In the words of Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch:
“If we’re going to effect change, we need an organized army of water activists in every single congressional district.”
Help Pass ARTICLE 31: Clean Water is a 'Fundamental Human Right'
One of the ways you can be a “water warrior” is by helping pass Article 31, which would establish clean water as a fundamental human right.
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There is a petition proposing the addition of one more article to the 30-article Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and they need your signature. In 1948, the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were ratified by all the nations of the world. These 30 articles guaranteed a broad sweep of human rights across many human endeavors, from life to liberty to freedom of thought. Now, 60 years later, recognizing that over a billion people across the planet lack access to clean and potable water and that millions die each year as a result, it is time to add one more article to this historic declaration.
Article 31, the Right to Water, states:
“Everyone has the right to clean accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access of quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.”
Please consider signing the petition for this important measure. If you’re interested in more information about water, we have an entire section of our website devoted to it.