Perhaps the greatest need for good health is clean water. We take for granted that we can turn our taps on and clean drinkable water will come out. This is a basic necessity of life. The greatest leap in the health of societies throughout the world has been when a clean water supply is available.

However, the fact remains that for many millions in the world, access to clean, free water is not available. More children in developing countries die from diarrhea as a result of contaminated water than from any other cause. If we could utilize our resources to ensure that all peoples in the world had clean water many millions of lives would be saved.

The question is how can this best be achieved? Given the level of resources and technology now available, it should not be that difficult for international organizations and governments to collaborate in achieving this. However, another actor has come over the horizon in the world of water privatization. For the last 20 years, the economic and political forces being encouraged and enforced onto both developed and developing countries have been most clearly seen through the policies of organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Although separate organizations, they function as interdependent regulators and overseers of the economic policies of most countries of the world. Their agenda is dominated though by the major banking, corporate and government interests in the developed world in other words the USA and Europe. One of their main mantras has been the cause of privatization, encouraging (forcing) many countries to privatize all the national industries within that country, mainly to huge transnational corporations. The world of water is but one of these resources that they feel should be privatized.

An article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, on February 26, 2003, outlined the issues being discussed regarding the worlds water supply. A meeting on March 16 of the World Water Forum met to create a vision of the future ownership and distribution of the water supply around the world. The meeting was sponsored by the World Water Council, a think tank whose membership includes the World Bank, global water corporations, the UN, governments and the International Private Water Association. To cut to the chase, according to the article they presented a prewritten "world water vision" endorsing an aggressive for-profit future of water and declared that it is not a basic human right but a need that can be delivered by the private sector. They envisaged water being transported across the world in huge tankers, just like oil today.

This policy has already been employed in many countries. England had all of its local water boards bought up by private organizations, ironically Enron being one of the companies involved. This led to an increase in prices up to 250%. Before the collapse of the Argentine economy, all of its national industries were privatized. In Bolivia, as a result of the privatization of its water supply, demonstrators took to the streets to challenge the increase in water rates, two of them being shot to death by the police. One of the owners of the water system is International Waters Ltd of London, which in fact is another name for our own "local" company Bechtel, of San Francisco. Bechtel is also involved in the gaining of contracts for rebuilding Iraq after the war, and so have been the focus of some of the recent anti-war demonstrations in the city. In Africa, some countries have been forced to sell off their water companies to foreign private interests at the behest of the IMF and WTO, leading to poor people having their water supply cut off when they cant pay the increased charges. This has even happened in South Africa.

In the next 20 years, the worlds water supply will be the largest political issue in the world. It may well dwarf the current political turmoil of oil and other forms of power. The supply of water for California will reach a potential crisis point in about 20 years. A large part of the territorial fight in the Israel and Palestine is about water supply. Turkey has control of the water supply that feeds all of Iraqs rivers, not to mention Syria and even Israel. In India, Coca Cola owns a whole river system in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, even when the area around the river is suffering the worst drought in memory.

Until now, in the United States we have had some of most protective policies assuring access to cheap water, and preventing the exploitation of access and prices of this most vital necessity for life. In the thrust for privatization of all the national resources, privatization and deregulation of the worlds water supply will create scenarios similar to the fiasco of power deregulation in California. The only difference is that many people in the poorer regions of the world will die as a result.

If you want to read more about the politics of water, there is a book called "Blue Gold, The Fight to Stop Corporate Theft of the Worlds Water" by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke.