Water, water not everywhere, and often too expensive to drink. That’s the message activist Barlow sounds loud and clear in outrage at the powers that be.
Head of the Council of Canadians, a public advocacy group, and author of Too Close For Comfort: Canada’s Future Within Fortress North America (2005), she decries the global commodification of water. She points the finger at individuals and groups—transnational corporations, lobbyists, committees, government donor agencies and international organizations—that have cajoled, corrupted or colluded with governments into turning water resources and distribution services into profitable private enterprises. Not surprisingly, it is the poor who suffer, unable to afford the cost of water even when companies have bothered to install pipes and meters in their homes. In the developing world, women walk miles to fetch water from unclean sources. Barlow goes on to lament the shrinking of water supplies, the siphoning of rivers to irrigate desert areas or create garden spots, the high energy costs of desalination and the increased pollution from water-cleaning and recycling technologies and, in particular, from the bottled water industry. She argues for global water justice, a new “blue covenant” in which water is not only a human right but a public trust. This has become the rallying cry of a growing movement of activists who demand government oversight, with regulation and enforced conservation. All quite right, but Barlow makes her case with encyclopedic lists of names, dates, meetings and places; overwhelmed readers will wish she had summarized her voluminous data. For all the wasteful absurdity of buying bottled water where the tap runs clean, it’s important to remember there are places in the world where bottled water is one of the most valuable public-health measures available.
The author could have been more succinct, but she sounds the water alarm with conviction and authority.