In honor of World Water Day, part two of my chapter All the Water Is One Water.
My little bottle of the waters of the world also reminds me that we need not only ritual, but also practical action to take care of water. When I was ten, my family went on vacation to the mountains of Wyoming. I remember coming upon a stream that had a little sign saying Potable Water. My sisters and I were very excited we could drink right out of the stream. The water tasted funny to us, with its enhanced mineral content, but it was cool and refreshing nonetheless. Now, looking back on that event, I am saddened by our amazement at drinking water directly from the earth. For millennia, all people drank from rivers and streams, and animals still do. But in the memories of most of us, this no longer is a part of our expectations about water. We take for granted that pollution has made most water undrinkable unless it is purified.
It may seem as if there is an endless supply of water on the earth. But of all the water on the earth, only one percent is fresh water. More and more water is being polluted, or being diverted to industrial or agricultural use. We have now reached the stage where there is a global crisis looming as drinkable water becomes increasingly scarce.
Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onandaga Nation, has said,
“Keeping the water pure is one of the first laws of life. If you destroy the water, you destroy life. That’s what I mean about common sense. Anybody can see that. All life on Mother Earth depends on the pure water, yet we spill every kind of dirt and filth and poison into it.”
Analysts are predicting water will be the number-one political issue in the coming years. Just as wars are being fought over oil, so increasingly there are conflicts over access to water. The business solution is to privatize the water: sell it to corporations and let them sell it to the people. The theory is that if water is a scarce resource, then the market should determine its price, and price will regulate its use. But citizens’ groups are fighting back to say water cannot be commodified, because it is an absolute necessity for life. We cannot take water out of its relationship to all living beings, and leave it in the hands of a system which is designed to think only in terms of profit.
In Cochabamba, Bolivia, citizens passed a resolution in 2000 to declare:
Water belongs to the earth and all species and is sacred to life, therefore, the world’s water must be conserved, reclaimed and protected for all future generations and its natural patterns respected.
Water is a fundamental human right and a public trust to be guarded by all levels of government, therefore, it should not be commodified, privatized or traded for commercial purposes. These rights must be enshrined at all levels of government. In particular, an international treaty must ensure these principles are noncontrovertable.
In 2010, due to grassroots organizing and lobbying efforts by an international coalition led by Bolivia, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to affirm “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” That doesn’t end the battle over commodification, but it becomes one more tool in the struggle to care for the water and ensure its protection.