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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

World water woes

<ay, March 22 was World Water Day, a holiday that that many Americans have not heard about.  But World Water Day is a big deal in places like India, where two of the top ten threatened rivers—the Ganges and Indus Rivers—are severely over-extracted for irrigation, and are additionally affected by climate change (“World’s top ten rivers at risk, says WWF report” The Hindu, Mar 22 2007).  Similarly, in Africa, where water is reduced to running through the tap at random, brief, unspecified times of day, World Water Day is extremely important.  Families have no choice but to leave their taps open all the time, while water meters charge them for the air running through the pipes (Blue Gold film).

Very few Carleton students buy bottled water regularly.  Almost everyone carries a Nalgene to all their classes.  Most of us are proud of Carleton’s commitment to sustainability, and we put up with the complicated composting system in Sayles and Trayless Tuesdays with few complaints.  We understand the wastefulness of bottled water and are not surprised by alarming statistics, such as the fact that 17 million barrels of oil went into producing a year’s worth of bottled water consumed by Americans, or that bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2006 alone (Pacific Institute online).

However, few of us are aware that bottled water companies are the same corporations that buy the water distribution rights from local and national governments around the world and then limit access to clean water to only those who can pay.  This is called water privatization and it is a serious political and human rights issue in places like India, Africa, Bolivia, Mexico and the United States (Blue Gold).  On March 14th, while we were finishing up finals, House Bill 1955 was introduced in the Illinois state Congress. The bill would make it easier for private companies to take over Illinois municipal water systems, and to charge higher rates for Illinoisans’ water (Food & Water Watch).

Privatization of water distribution can sometimes improve efficiency, but it effectively requires people to pay (usually as much as 4,000 times more) for their basic requirements for life (Blue Gold).  And as global warming and unsustainable use of aquifers are drastically depleting the amount of usable freshwater, water will become a privilege of the rich.  4500 children die each day of thirst and water-related illness (“World Water Day: A Sermon” Huffington Post, 23 Mar 2011).  Civil war in Bolivia broke out over control of water, until the people successfully kicked out the enormous water company, Suez (Blue Gold).  In China, villagers send planes out to make it rain before the clouds move on to the next village (Blue Gold).  The fact that we can’t see these issues here in Northfield doesn’t mean they aren’t happening, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t help stop it.

Where does our water come from?  What watershed are we in?  Where does our wastewater go?  What companies are we supporting with our purchasing power?  We need to start asking questions, and acknowledging the impact of our choices.  We need to recognize our power as consumers, community members, and students at a college that’s committed to sustainability and social justice.  We need to take back the tap at Carleton, and ban bottled water from our campus.

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