Piper (English and Geography/Univ. of Missouri; Left in the Dust: How Race and Politics Created a Human and Environmental Tragedy in L.A., 2006, etc.) introduces us to a brave new world in which drought is a prime business opportunity.
The gradual diminishment of clean fresh water is not late-breaking news, but the scarfing up of what remains by private concerns is fast approaching a maybe-too-late moment, writes the author in this piece of tack-sharp reportage. Piper outlines a scenario in which “a small number of multinational corporations are banking on the fact that the world is entering a global water crisis….And now they are mining our water, quietly gaining control over our water supplies, with the help of national governments and institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.” Lest readers feel that the author is being hyperbolic, she provides firsthand evidence and plenty of footnotes to back up even the most minor act of water pilfering. Piper diligently charts the gathering of fresh water into fewer and fewer hands, providing such examples as massive drought in California, the damming and diverting of the Ganges River in India, the corruptions and snafus of post-Mubarak Egypt and post-Apartheid South Africa, the draining of fossil water and the overextraction of other once-replenishable water sources, and the classic arm-twisting of the IMF, which withheld American relief money to South Africa unless they kept wages stagnant, removed trade barriers and cut government services. The author also offers a handful of immediate actions that can be taken (including recognition and revival of indigenous water-knowledge systems) and ends on a somewhat positive note: “public pushback against water privatization has worked and companies are now in retreat”—but this story has many chapters to go.
Piper’s report makes for anxious yet informative reading.