By Shelley Bluejay Pierce
April 13, 2009
Corporate greed and political obsessions brought the global economy to a screeching halt. Representing a small percentage of the total population, these elite financial manipulators wrecked havoc upon the whole of society. Never in our history has an event like the recent financial crisis demonstrated that we, as a society, are inextricably interconnected.
Entire tent-cities made up of the homeless and unemployed are springing up like dandelions in the summer heat. However, contrary to the incessant yammering in the media and within the hallowed halls of political leaderships, the threat to our very survival is not financial decline. This threat is not based upon whether you have a job or are living in a tent-city due to financial ruination.
There is one common need for all living things to survive on this planet and it is not money. Few people or leaderships are acknowledging it and far fewer are taking action to protect this item in an effort to save us all from a global reactionary holocaust. Our most critical need for global survival is fresh water. You can survive in a tent without a job, electricity or modern conveniences so long as you have clean drinking water to sustain you. The international political communities and hosts of pocket-stuffing profiteers would have us think otherwise.
Why do I call the global water crisis a “reactionary holocaust?”
The immediate response to the term ‘holocaust’ brings forth a plethora of historical annihilations centered upon a particular race. Such will be the case again if we, as a united race of humans, do not protect the source of all life forms on this planet. Billions of people in less developed countries do not have access to clean water. Much of that available water is of poor quality and some is dangerously contaminated due to the lack of water treatment and unregulated pollution entering the water supply. An estimated 5 million people die each year from preventable water-related diseases and most of these are children. Some expert predictions state that by the year 2025, perhaps two-thirds of global populations will have limited water supplies with demands outpacing supply by 56%.
Indigenous and impoverished peoples bear the burdens in a world where an estimated 75% do not have enough clean water and estimates reveal that this portion of the human population will make up 95% of those suffering from water crisis levels by 2025. The Indigenous peoples in Bolivia account for nearly 80% of the population and they were the most impacted by transnational water companies who had raised the price of water to one-quarter the average family's monthly salary. Civil unrest erupted between police and the military resulting in a death, many injuries and literally hundreds of arrests. Still, the water profiteers are pressuring the Bolivian government to reinstate their contracts.
The extent of this water crisis is extreme enough and the predictions for future shortages dire enough that ‘holocaust’ is the only word with enough impact to address the situation.
Climate change is quickly altering the face of our planet leaving some regions without precipitation levels sufficient enough to meet the needs of local populations. Other regions are scrambling to prevent damage from flooding from increased precipitation. Statistics reveal a clearer picture of our water crisis when experts proclaim that global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years and at more than twice the rate of human population increase.
But why do I combine this dire forecast with the term ‘reactionary?’
In the race for industrialized supremacy, nation after nation profited from new developments and technology. The long-term impact of our newest creations often took a back seat to advancement simply for the sake of industrial supremacy and wealth. For example, when we needed more electricity, we built enormous dams. Not until the vast environmental and cultural impacts where the dam was built came to light did we examine the lasting effects of hydroelectric dams. We developed irrigation canals to channel water into agricultural areas only to realize later what damage we had done to once healthy rivers. Mining activities from the past now reveal a never-ending toxic contamination flow into our fresh water supplies.
Our climate is in critical meltdown as enormous sections of polar ice caps disappear into the oceans surrounding them. The human, reactionary mindset steps in again as we plan vast solar and wind generation plants but perhaps without the critical studies being done ahead of time. If history repeats itself, we are once again in the process of “reactionary” creativity. Forced by a major crisis to adjust and modify our way of life, we jump on the nearest bandwagon that promises safety, security and an end to our next catastrophe. Our policies and developmental strategies are “reactionary” rather than being steadily proactive.
Reactionary impulses spawned yet another disaster when the Alberta Tar Sands moved into full-scale production. Creating three times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude production processes, extracting oil from the tar sands requires 3 to 6 barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. Following the extraction process, toxic water is held in lagoons and are known to leak such contaminates as arsenic, mercury, PAHs, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, and lead.
A recent study reveals that Alberta is vulnerable to water shortages due to increasing population, extensive irrigation demands and the rapid growth of the Tar Sands project.
One expert stated the projected water use for the oil sands may reach 45 cubic meters a second and that relates to about half of the low flow volume for the Athabaska River during most of the past 20 years. Nearly three quarters of Canada's irrigation water for agriculture, and livestock operations comes from Alberta as well.
Allowed to continue on this course, Alberta will join the ranks of other regions worldwide that are caught up in the ‘reactionary holocaust.’ With climate warming, increasing population and industrialization, the final straw that broke the camel’s back may be only one drought away. Many are getting rich due to the developments but the question is, which segments of the population will pay the highest costs for these quick fixes. Our human history is riddled with responses given to catastrophes and often, with little thought to the future impacts, we move forward in all haste to ‘fix’ the problem.
Several reports have come into me from Indigenous communities saying that when visiting governmental or agency representatives are invited to join the community leadership for a meal and something to drink, visiting dignitaries decline to partake in the meal. Are these visitors simply rude or might the truth be that they fear for their own human health and well being if they were to drink from the same tainted water supplies as the communities are forced to use? Follow the path to the cleanest water supplies and safest food and you will find those segments of the population with the greatest wealth, political power and influence to gain access to the very best.
Moving forward, we as a global community must face the fact that we are indeed an inter-connected civilization. Failure to acknowledge that one basic fact may bring about the greatest ‘holocaust’ our civilization has ever known. Do you want proof of that? Look at the massive revolts, uprisings and protests over the recent financial meltdowns. If the human race is prepared to kill one another over the all mighty currency of the day, imagine what will happen when they are fighting for their lives for one glass of water.
“The three water crises - dwindling freshwater supplies, inequitable access to water and the corporate control of water - pose the greatest threat of our time to the planet and to our survival. Together with impending climate change from fossil fuel emissions, the water crises impose some life-or-death decisions on us all. Unless we collectively change our behavior, we are heading toward a world of deepening conflict and potential wars over the dwindling supplies of freshwater - between nations, between rich and poor, between the public and the private interest, between rural and urban populations, and between the competing needs of the natural world and industrialized humans.”
(Maude Barlow, “Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.”)