Water, water everywhere, but…
Some people see water as a resource and some don't
Guest post by Blair Eveleigh, senior associate editor
In Canada, and especially here in Ontario with our copious lakes, we sometimes take water for granted. We shouldn’t, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that if we don’t steward this precious commodity, there may be problems ahead. Wait. Did you notice I just called water a “commodity”? Is water really “an article that can be bought and sold, esp. a product as opposed to a service” (according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary)? Maybe it would be better to refer to water as a resource, which I’m sure we’ve all heard before. Resource: “(often in pl.) a material or condition occurring in nature and capable of economic exploitation (often attributive: resource development).” Hmm, not much better.
So, if water is not a commodity (though we know that it is bought and sold) and it is not a resource (though governments and companies frequently treat water as a resource), then what is it? Water is like air, something humans need to survive and, let’s face it, no one should be denied access to it. Yet the privatization of water is happening around the world, municipalities are selling to corporate interests the right to provide water, and the idea of wholesale redistribution is always cropping up (with global warming fostering more droughts, countries like Canada, with an abundance of water are constantly under pressure to “share the wealth”—we are a nation of “hewers of wood, drawers of water,” after all).
Fortunately, there are signs of people pushing back. Registration for next month’s World Water Forum in Marseille is far below organizers’ expectations, with only about 2,000 registrants, when 25,000 participants had been anticipated. This triennial conference has been labelled by some groups as a “corporate trade show disguised as a multi-stakeholder conference.” One of those participants is the Global Water Partnership. Here’s one of that group’s guiding principles, from its website: “Integrated water resources management is based on the equitable and efficient management and sustainable use of water and recognises that water is an integral part of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a social and economic good, whose quantity and quality determine the nature of its utilisation.” It’s not too hard to see water as a commodity in that statement.
Meanwhile, at the same time as the water-as-resource forum, another conference, the Alternative World Water Forum, will be taking place, also in Marseille, to promote water as a basic human right. A key organizer of this gathering is the Council of Canadians. Here’s hoping that whatever comes out of this conference reverberates loudly enough to influence decision-making on our lakes and rivers, vital, yet taken for granted, and abundant, yet imperilled.