Water is included in both NAFTA and the WTO as a tradeable good. Multinational corporations are trying to monopolize water supplies around the world. Monsanto estimates that water will become a multibillion-dollar market in the coming decades. The World Bank recently adopted a policy of water privatization and full-cost water pricing. Grassroots resistance to the privatization of water emerges as companies expand profit taking. Water-related conflicts are springing up around the globe. Malaysia, for example, owns half of Singapore's water and, in 1997, threatened to cut off its water supply after Singapore criticized Malaysia's government policies.
San Francisco's Bechtel Enterprises was contracted to manage the water system in Cochabamba, Bolivia, after the World Bank required Bolivia to privatize. When Bechtel pushed up the price of water, the entire city went on a general strike. The military killed a seventeen-year-old boy and arrested the water rights leaders. After four months of unrest the Bolivian government forced Bechtel out of Cochambamba and restored control of the region's water supply into public hands. The story has brought unprecedented attention to the issue of water privatization and important events continue to unfold, both locally and internationally. Locally, Cochabamba's residents are working closely with the newly reconstituted water company, SEMAPA, to extend water service to more families. In Alto Cochabamba, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, a community water tank had remained uncompleted for years and became a local trash dump. Today the tank is in full operation, bringing public water into the neighborhood for the first time. Civic leaders say they are building a utility that is run by the people rather than by corrupt politicians or an overcharging corporation beyond local democratic reach.
Cochabamba's water rebellion is also drawing substantial world attention and solidarity. International groups have pledged their support against Bechtel's lawsuit for as much as $20 million compensation for losing the Cochabamba contract. It is an action that pits one of the world's wealthiest corporations against the people of South America's poorest nation. Bechtel has been actively shopping for the friendliest international forum possible and apparently has decided its best chances lie in a suit under a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) signed previously between Bolivia and Holland. Late in 2000 Bechtel reassinged its corporate papers to place its subsidiary under Dutch registration, in preparation for such action. This is described as the first major international civil society fight against a corporate legal action under such a treaty.
Monsanto plans to earn revenues of $420 million and a net income of $63 million by 2008 from its water business in India and Mexico.
Bechtel Group Inc. contracts with the city of San Francisco to upgrade the city's water system. Bechtel employees are working side by side with government workers in a privatization move that activists fear will lead to an eventual take-over of San Francisco's water system. Research has shown that selling water on the open market only delivers it to wealthy cities and individuals. Governments are signing away their control over domestic water supplies by participating in trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and in institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). These agreements give transnational corporations the unprecedented right to the water of signatory companies. Recently, a civil society movement has been created to wrest control of water back from profit-making forces and claim it for people and nature. Called the Blue Planet Project, this movement is an alliance of farmers, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, public sector workers and urban activists who forced the issue of water as a human right at the March 2000 World Water Forum in the Hague. The Project is holding the first global citizens' summit on water in Vancouver in July 2001.
The finite sources of freshwater (less than one half of one per cent of the world's total water stock) are being diverted, depleted, and polluted so fast that, by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world's population will be living in a state of serious water deprivation. Yet governments are handing responsibility of this precious resource over to giant transnational corporations who, in collusion with the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, seek to commodify and privatize the world's water and put it on the open market for sale to the highest bidder. Millions of the world's citizens are being deprived of this fundamental human right, and vast ecological damage is being wrought as massive industry claims water once used to sustain communities and replenish nature.