How to Craft Water Democracy, Earth Democracy & Survive Climate Change: TreeHugger Interviews Dr. Vandana Shiva

photo: Simon via flickr.
On the issue of water privatization, here in the United States it's not a hot-button issue like it is in many areas of the Global South. What's the scale of global corporations coming in and privatizing water?

The privatization is happening in many ways. When a company takes a river and uses it for hydropower generation, and steals it from the community and steals it from the society that was nourished by that river that is a form of water privatization. So I treat river diversions as a form of water privatization.

Then there's the outright privatization through World Bank-influenced contracts to companies like Bechtel to privatize urban supply. We were very successful in stopping this in Delhi with a four year movement for water democracy.

The third is bottled water, which is a form of water privatization. These women of this tiny village in Kerala started a campaign and shut down the Coca-Cola plant. Out of that we built a national campaign on Coca-Cola. Since then at least three plants have shut down, totally through local movements.

Every bottle of water is privatized water. Because normally we should have clean wells, clean rivers and public supply that is clean, drinkable water. That we are reaching the situation that corporations are using our public water bodies like rivers and wells to basically dump pollution, and then people are being forced into depending on bottled water is a two-way privatization: First by the polluters and then by the bottlers.

How do feel about companies such as Coca-Cola giving financial backing to international agencies working in water, and whose projects the public sees, do seem to be going a long way towards solving some of these local water issues, in terms of water quality? What do you think Coca-Cola's motivation is in that?

Obviously Coca-Cola's motivation is to clean its image, in supporting some small local projects. But overall its business policy is to take water that belonged to people and sell it where they can sell it. The scale at which they privatize water, and the scale of the projects that they showcase for water harvesting or whatever, the proportion is absolutely out of context. That's what corporate social responsibility has become.

Incidentally, yesterday I just released a new book by a business journalist who happened to work for Coca-Coal as director of communications for two and a half years. It's called The Real Thing: Coca-Cola's Bumpy Ride in India. He's talked about all of these major issues of everyday unethical behavior and then a tiny bit of saying 'here is a little water harvesting tank we have created' or 'here are the winter Olympics in British Columbia where we will give out t-shirts and caps.'

photo: Patrick McCully via flickr
I'm drawn to the words 'Water Democracy' and 'Earth Democracy'. Could you lay out what is Water Democracy, what is Earth Democracy to you?

Let me begin with Earth Democracy. First, it's the awareness that we are part of an extended Earth family to which all species belong. In India we've had a word for this: It's Vasudhaiva katumbkam. It's not a new invention; it's the way we used to think about it.

If the Earth's family is our family, then you don't damage the trees, you don't kill the fish, you don't pollute the water. Just as you wouldn't damage members of your family. Of course there is violence in some families, but that's exceptional behavior; normal families give love, give support to each other.

The second issue of Earth Democracy for me is, that not only are we part of an Earth family of which all species are members, but that current form of representative democracy is running its way out. Obama has given it a kind of little blip in its revival—just like a little dying fish, you kind of get a little blip in the ECG—but everywhere else people are disillusioned, people aren't coming out in large numbers. There is a huge collusion between big money, big capital and elections. So [we have] this feedback system: Corporations put money into the system, the person whom they support wins because they he or she has the money to move to get votes, to mobilize. That's how the vicious circle constantly creates the rule of money, disempowering the majority of citizens. But worse, giving license to those with economic power to go ahead and destroy the planet and the Earth family.

Earth Democracy for me is correcting that aberration that has entered into centralized democracy, based on the power of corporations; taking power back; to protect the Earth, her resources, her species and to do it as part of our everyday lives, to create a counter force to the devastation that is related to centralized economic control.

Quite clearly, for the Earth, for the biosphere water is a vital element, so you can't have an Earth Democracy without Water Democracy.

Very simply that means: Rivers should be able to flow; water should be able to flow through the sap of plants, after all 70% of every species is water; that 70% of water entitlement for all beings needs to be secured; it can't be secured if rivers are eaten up; it can't be secured if water is privatized and only those people who can afford to pay for it have access to it and the other species, the other human beings just whiter away.

Water Democracy then means first and foremost that water is a commons, it is a public good. Second to recognize that the best place to protect water is at the level of local community action, working in cooperation and solidarity with community and community and community, working upwards. That's how water works in any case.

Water works as a democracy: Rain doesn't just fall on Washington, it distributes itself. Climate change is making it a little chaotic, but water comes to us in a democratic way, whether it's through rivers of precipitation. That's the way we need to look at water.


For more on Dr Vandana Shiva's work, please visit: Navdanya
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Tags: Agriculture | Drinking Water | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions | Local Food | Pollution | Water Conservation | Water Crisis


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