by Randolph T. Holhut
Cjhief of American Reporter Correspondents
August 7, 2014
WATER IS A HUMAN RIGHT, NOT A COMMODITY TO PROFIT FROM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- On a planet with an ever-increasing population and ever-shrinking natural resources, fighting over access to what's left seems inevitable.
Just as inevitable are the people who hope to profit from resource scarcity.
Water is fast becoming a precious commodity. The drought we are seeing in California is just one illustration of that.
However, the principle that water is a human right for all - that it should be pure, accessible, and affordable - is running smack into the principle that water is just another commodity for sale to the highest bidder.
Over the past few months in Detroit, tens of thousands of people, mostly African-American, have't been able to afford to pay their water bills and have had their water shut off; it's estimated that nearly half of Detroit residents are behind on their water bills.
Water rates in Detroit have gone up 119 percent in the past decade, and in a city with a 40 percent poverty rate, water has become unaffordable for much of the population.
It was so dire a situation that the United Nations and human rights groups stepped in to fight for a right that many of us take for granted - clean water and sanitation.
After the protests and international outcry grew too loud to be ignored, Detroit's state-appointed "emergency financial manager" Kevyn Orr last week handed back control of the city's water system to Mayor Mike Duggan.
That the mayor lost control over a basic resource is telling. Orr sought to privatize the Detroit Water & Sewerage Dept. as part of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to appoint emergency financial managers to take control of "troubled" cities and then, under the guise of dealing with a financial "emergency," grant the power to dismiss elected officials, tear up labor agreements, impose new taxes and fees, and sell off public assets.
Privatization rarely delivers on its promise of saving taxpayer dollars while delivering services more efficiently. But cash-strapped cities, defunded by the right-wing anti-tax, anti-public sector, anti-government forces, are forced to sell off public assets and get rid of public employees to stay solvent.
The new private owners of the highways, airports, water and sewer systems, schools, hospitals, and the rest of the once-public assets then turn around and either rent them back to the public, or jack up the rates for using them.
That's the fundamental difference between the public and the private sector. The first priority of the public sector is serving the public good, while the first priority of the private sector is making a profit for a select few.
And nothing is off-limits. Drinking water has become a commodity that corporations can turn a buck on, now that bottled water is ubiquitous and people are willing to pay a buck or two for something that now comes out of the tap for less than a penny. A world where water is only available to those can afford it will be a dangerous world to live in.
Extreme capitalism, as now practiced, requires continuous growth and profit to survive, and if the wealthy and powerful have to loot the collective wealth of the 99 percent to maintain that continuous growth, they will. They also know that as long as people feel powerless to stop them, they can get away with it.
But the only way privatization will be stopped is if the pressure is turned up against the people who are plundering our public assets for private gain.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). Reach hom at firstname.lastname@example.org.