Occupy H20? World Water Day Blogging:
Water’s political nature often goes painfully and shortsightedly overlooked, or worse, outright abused. In Alabama, denial of water access is currently being implemented as a means of encouraging self-deportation of undocumented immigrants. A key issue in the Israel-Palestine struggle is the decisions over water rights, usage and control. In terms of bigger picture water policies, momentarily overlooking changes necessary to individual usage, the need for corporations, states and municipalities to treat their water practices with greater concern and conservation is an issue of equality as much as it is an issue of environment or of basic availability. It’s a prime candidate for the concern of Occupy Wall Streeters and more those who challenge inequality, both economic and political.
Charles Fishman’s The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, which I’m reading at the moment,is so far an excellent window into the nexus between water consciousness and social consciousness. Fishman presents a fairly optimistic front (at least as optimistic as one can get about a coming crisis), offering us up a lot of information about the ways in which some states, municipalities and corporations have stepped up to the plate in adapting themselves to the idea of changing their core water culture and drastically reducing the wasteful ways in which they made use of water. While this does highlight the ways in which we make positive change, it also highlights the exploitative and carelessly luxuriant ways in which the rich and corporate have become accustomed to using (and making others use) water: from the decorative waterfalls that ornament parched Las Vegas’s hotels to the use of community drinking resources to water upscale golf courses.
Today is World Water Day, and in recognition of that I’d like to promote the idea that water be really central in some of our discussions about class, race and gender. Overuse of drinking water instead for non-drinking purposes, for example, deprives communities of the extra cushion in their water supply that might protect them from going dry - a problem that is a growing concern. A Guardian article from last year says that in Britain, “water poverty” looks to be the new “fuel poverty.” As I noted above, in Alabama, a portion of anti-immigration legislation includes the ban on business transactions between public institutions and undocumented immigrants, which ultimately requires people to prove their so-called “legal” status to access public water supplies. Across the world, female farmers (who make up huge percentages of the subsistence food producers in many regions) are left out of irrigation design and policy planning, forcing them to rely on rainwater. Women are equally ignored in community water access planning, despite the heavy toll that water carrying takes on their bodies and their time and their ability to forge personal and financial independence. As Fishman notes, it can be hard to comprehend the truly powerful political nature of water or water crisis living in a position of 24-hour hot and cold running tap water that is virtually always safe to drink. But the not-so-hidden element of water is the incredibly divisive nature of its politics.
Photo: A boy drinks water straight from the tap. Agartala, India. Shushanta Das/AP.