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Salon: Water is the New Oil

By Lindsay Abrams

The Price of Thirst by Karen PiperWhen you talk about human rights, not to mention human necessities, there’s not much more fundamental than water. The United Nations has even put it in writing: it formally “recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

That’s the theory, at least. In practice? Well, on Monday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes arrived at a different conclusion from that of the U.N., in a ruling on Detroit’s hotly contested practice of cutting off water access to tens of thousands of residents who can’t pay their bills. “It cannot be doubted that water is a necessary ingredient to sustaining life,” Rhodes conceded. Yet there is not, he continued, “an enforceable right to free and affordable water.” Water, in the eyes of the court, is apparently a luxury.

While it’s shocking to watch a city deny the rights of its own citizens, that’s nothing compared to what could happen if private water companies are allowed to take over. In “The Price of Thirst: Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos,” Karen Piper details the litany of examples worldwide of this very thing happening. In a classic example of the shock doctrine, Piper argues, water shortages are being seen as a business opportunity for multinational corporations. Their mantra: “No money, no water.” By 2025, it’s predicted they’ll be serving 21 percent of the world’s population.

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The Price of Thirst