Struggle for Water is a 21st Century Universal
Mike Wilson

Deny global warming all you want. There are over a billion people on Earth who currently do not have access to drinking water, to whom a debate over human alterations to the earth’s ecosystem, and the effects of resource depletion, is futile. Simply, there are people who do not have the privilege of denying climate change.
Here is what Panama and Peru have in common with North Dakota and Wisconsin: in each of these four cases, as in dozens of others, grassroots organizations hope to impede the construction of hydroelectric plants, oil rigs, iron mines, or an oil pipeline, projects which they see as detrimental to the future of the biosphere.
Central to each of these cases is the question: do citizens have rights over land and water, or do corporations like Savia Perú, Newmont, TransCanada or Gogebic Traconite?
Civil organizing against the Penokee mining project in the wetlands of Northern Wisconsin, despite its continuous advances in the state legislature, resemble the organized citizen actions that pressured President Obama into postponing the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline in January.
The approval of Keystone XL, which would transport tar-sand extracted oil from Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, has been delayed until 2013. However, Congressional Republicans plan to remove President Obama’s oversight over the pipeline’s approval by inserting it in a transportation bill that would force the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve the project within 30 days.
Over 5,000 protestors have united to raise awareness about and protest the Conga mining project in Cajamarca, Peru, through the organization of a Gandhi-reminiscent national march. The “Water March” now approaches Lima, the capital city of Peru, where it plans to hold a National Forum on Water Justice.
A spokesperson for the March said its objectives are to put the right to water as a national priority through nonviolent mobilization. The Water March was mainly organized by the Cajamarca Environmental Defense Front, as well as hundreds of fishermen from the province of Chimbote, who fear that biodiversity will be threatened if the oil company Savia Perú follows its plan to build an oil rig 20 miles off the coast, and if the mining company Newmont develops the Conga mine.
The March stopped in the city of Áncash, where locals summarized four main demands of the movement: intangibility of the headwaters, prohibition of using cyanide and mercury in mining, the right to consultation with the towns and the declaration of water as a constitutional right.
In Panama, the people of Ngäbe Buglé took over a highway last month in protest of a series of mining and hydroelectric projects in their region. National police have forcefully and violently removed them since then, but the indigenous group’s leader Silvia Carrera, the first female in her position, vows to upkeep the struggle for the rights to clean water and land.
Every day, roughly 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in the world’s water bodies. In the developing world, 70 percent of industrial wastes are dumped into the usable water supply, upon which depend billions of people.
The UN estimates that each person needs a minimum of 20 liters of freshwater daily, which is used for basic needs such as cooking, drinking and cleaning. They also estimate that it takes 2,000 to 5,000 liters to produce one person’s daily food.
Most of the water in the world today, however, is not used for basic needs. Of all the freshwater in the world (only 2.5 percent of the total water in the world), humans have appropriated over 50 percent. Of that, 70 percent is used for irrigation, 22 percent for industry, and only eight percent for domestic use.
Water use has grown at twice the rate of the population increase in the last century. The number of people who live under water insecurity (with little or no access to drinking water) has also risen dramatically. Half of the world’s wetlands have already been depleted.
Total water use is expected to increase by 50 percent in the developing world and by 18 percent in the developed world by 2025. At that time, it is expected that 1.8 billion people will live in regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of all humans will be under water insecurity.
According to the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), “Water resource management impacts almost all aspects of the economy, in particular, health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry and environmental sustainability.” Moreover, “Water is the primary medium through which climate change impacts the earth’s ecosystem and people.”
As governments across the world grapple with the question above—to promote direct private investment in their economies through projects such as the Penokee iron mine, or to protect their environmental sustainability—it might be useful to remember that “Climate variability, water resource management and economic development are intricately linked. Vulnerability to natural disasters affecting the water supply hampers economic performance and undermines poverty reduction goals,” according to the WWAP.
As accessing water becomes more difficult for societies, the time available for individuals to spend on other activities—like education, economic production or political participation—is reduced. Other such “external” costs to global warming are difficult to calculate, due to the incontrovertible fact that virtually all aspects of society and ecology would be affected by reduced access to water.
Immigration, social and economic disruption, hunger, poverty, sanitation and public health issues, and other factors will be increasingly affected by climate change. These mutually multiplying concerns are already demonstrating their effects, as the instances of conflict and violence resulting specifically from water scarcity continue to rise.
Panama, Peru, Wisconsin and North Dakota are only four of the many frontlines of climate change, where organized citizens are fighting to stay afloat.
For example, the UN estimates that by 2030, climate change will have caused the decline of 20 percent of the snow and ice in the Himalayas, which provide water for much of the agriculture in Asia. It further estimates that by 2020, the yields of rain-dependent crops will be reduced by 50 percent. With a food crisis already in progress, this development will only lead to desperation and conflict.
As this happens, national as well as human security will be more and more jeopardized. Those of us leading privileged lifestyles will be forced to notice, even as we strangle each other over what’s causing our demise.
The good news is that we can all do something about it. If you believe every drop matters, visit for everyday water-saving tips.