Water, Water, Not Everywhere?

For this week’s post, I wanted to focus on a topic that is rarely discussed in detail. My topic is on the resource of water. The motivation to write this topic derives from how a lot of high-income countries do not appreciate the access to clean water. In order to address this issue, I watched a film to help me contextualize my findings from the film to people’s encounter with water everyday.

Water is embedded in our daily lives. The film FLOW: For the Love of Water depicts water’s importance in the global context. The film addresses many issues that come with water: inequality, contamination, displacement and ecosystem disturbance. Water inequality is evident in the disproportional availability and access to water for those living in developed countries compared to those living in low-income countries. Water contamination addresses how water contaminated with herbicide chemicals affects the ecosystem, such as how Atrazine can affect the biological make up of frogs if they are exposed to the chemical in dirty water. Finally, displacement of people and ecosystem disturbance results from the construction of dams. In this post, I will be using the theoretical framework of political economy of resource scarcity to address inequality in accessing safe drinking water.

Theoretical Framework
One of the opposing sides of the resource scarcity argument states that we are not running out of resources such as water. Resource scarcity is political in that “it’s experienced differently depending on socioeconomic status and is a result of social inequality” (Class notes). The film presents a critique of structural inequality of access to water, implemented by multinational corporations and financial institutions as a result of corporate greed, which exacerbates social inequality. Water is not scarce. In reality, powerful multinational corporations like Nestle, Vivendi, and Suez control access to it. Water is a lucrative resource that financially and politically benefits multinational companies. For example, the film states that water is now a $400 billion global industry – the third largest behind oil and electricity (FLOW, 2008). Privatizing water as a commodity allows multinational corporations to distribute water to the highest bidder or people who can afford to buy private water. This results in the poor being cut out of access to adequate and clean quality water, resulting in poor health outcomes, especially for the poor living in low-income countries. Privatization forces those in low-income countries to hand over their basic control of water to the multinational corporations that profit from this private enterprise. Multinational corporations embody capitalist profit-seeking behavior off of a public good, institutionalizing inequality through the provisions of water solely to the economically and politically powerful actors in poor and rich countries alike.

Critique of Film
Although the film does a decent job addressing a global problem, it has many flaws. Primarily, the film is one-sided and does not present counter arguments for the issues presented in the film. Second, a few times in the film, the graphics and statistical data seems sensationalized in order to create a reaction of outrage from its viewers. For example, when discussing the effects of using herbicides and pesticides, the health outcomes of exposure to chemicals seem to signal global consequences of the exposure rather than showing that the outcomes are regional. Another form of sensationalizing is when William Marks, author of The Holy Order of Water, describes the global shortage: “we are on the brink of the sixth great mass extinction ever to be experienced on the face of the earth” (FLOW). The problem with sensationalizing is that it strays away from the facts at hand. The last critique of this film addresses the lack of suggestions or solutions to its main argument, which is how we can address the universal need for access to clean water.

Personal Opinions
There are many take-always from the film. However, I am more drawn into the idea of politics involved in dam construction in addition to displacement and ecosystem disturbance that the film discussed. Dam construction can induce international wars. An example of international wars induced by water construction is the construction of the Gilgel Gibe III dam being built in Ethiopia for the purpose of providing cheap electricity and water for harvesting crops. However, downstream countries like Sudan, Kenya, and Egypt oppose the construction of the dam (Feldman, 2012). Water wars among countries sharing bodies of water are one component that the film failed to address.
Since watching the film, I have personally taken into consideration my water usage and consumption. Despite the sensationalization of the magnitude of the water problem, the film is educational and raises awareness to an ordinary viewer who might not have had previous knowledge of the political economy of water.

-Tarikwa Leveille


Works Cited

Salina, Irena, Steven Starr, Gill Holland, Yvette Tomlinson, Caitlin Dixon, and Christophe Julien. Flow: For Love of Water. Toronto: Mongrel Media, 2008.

Feldman, David Lewis. Water. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2012. Print.

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