“When the Well’s dry, we know the Worth of Water”

Benjamin Franklin wrote that aphorism in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1746). It is as astute today as it was back then. But when will we learn the lesson?

Here’s an ad on the web site of The Los Angeles Times on 20 May 2011. It was placed by the MEND Water Company of Newport Beach, California, whose motto is “Every sip counts”.

“You know all those bottled waters with fancy names and sexy labels depicting snow-capped mountains, pristine streams and tropical settings? Well, MEND isn’t one of them. What separates MEND from glorified tap water is the purification process. MEND strips out all traceable contaminants and uses cutting edge technology to reformulate the water in a rigorous 13-step process, delivering a PH balanced, high alkaline and electrolyte-enhanced elixir. If you’re okay with particles of rust, sand, clay, chlorine, nitrates, acids, pollutants and sodium in your water – then please DON’T drink MEND. If, on the other hand, you want the ultimate in health and hydration, a water that’s been restored to its natural healing energy and power, then this is for you. MEND: it’s not just water – it’s a lifestyle.”

The cost? $50 for trial membership and one month of premium water delivered to home or office ($150 value). And here’s the sop to people’s consciences: MEND will give back 5% of the membership fee to the charity of your choice. I couldn’t discover the ongoing cost after the trial membership ends, but it’s likely to be exorbitant.

Contrast that profligacy with some sobering facts from UN Water:

  • Water scarcity affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world’s population, live in countries that lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers.
  • Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet for six billion people, but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted, and unsustainably managed.
  • Water challenges will increase significantly in the coming years. Population growth and rising incomes will lead to greater water consumption, as well as more waste. The urban population in developing countries will grow dramatically, generating demand well beyond the capacity of already inadequate water supplies.

In her book Water Wars (2002), Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva lists nine principles underpinning water democracy. At least two of these principles are directly compromised by water privatization and commercialization. Point 4 states that, “Water must be free for sustenance needs. Since nature gives water to us free of cost, buying and selling it for profit violates our inherent right to nature’s gift and denies the poor of their human rights.” Point 7 states, “Water is a commons… It cannot be owned as private property and sold as a commodity.” Water is a commons because it is the basis of all life.

In 2007, in The Right to Water, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out that, “It is now time to consider access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, defined as the right to equal and non-discriminatory access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses – drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene – to sustain life and health.”

On 30 September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council, responsible for mainstreaming human rights within the UN system, adopted by consensus a resolution affirming that water and sanitation are, indeed, human rights. The resolution affirmed that, “The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity.”

So, let’s not drink MEND. Let’s stand up for the right to water – ordinary, clean, safe, affordable H2O.

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