Friday, March 21, 2014

In The Mist Of A Global Water Crisis -- The EU Threatens Water Privatization

By Theodora Filis

Water privatization is a very hot subject, and is causing many problems in the European Union
(EU). In countries like Greece and Portugal, the Troika is pushing for water privatization, with more and more citizens being deprived of water access in municipalities where water supply is managed by private companies. Citizens are fighting against water privatization across the EU, with many examples of massive mobilizations in Italy with the 2011 binding referendum, the local consultations in Madrid and Berlin, more recent mobilizations in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain and upcoming local public consultations in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Everyone agrees that we are in the midst of a global freshwater crisis. Around the world, rivers, lakes, and aquifers are dwindling faster than we can possibly replenish them. Increased global population and industrial and household chemicals are also causing a decrease in freshwater.

Goldman Sachs estimates that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, and the United Nations expects demand to overcome supply by more than 30 percent come 2040. Although water is essential to life, it makes it no less expensive to obtain, purify, and deliver, and does nothing to change the fact that as supplies dwindle and demand grows, that expense will only increase.

Maude Barlow - The Global Water Crisis

The World Bank has argued that higher prices are a good thing. Right now, no public utility anywhere prices water based on how scarce it is or how much it costs to deliver, and that, privatization proponents argue, is the root cause of such rampant overuse. If water costs more, they say, we will conserve it better. 

As the crisis worsens, companies like True Alaska that own the rights to vast stores of water (and have the capacity to move it in bulk) won’t necessarily weigh the needs of wealthy water-guzzling companies like Coca-Cola or NestlĂ© against those of water-starved communities in Phoenix or Ghana; privately owned water utilities will charge what the market can bear, and spend as little as they can get away with on maintenance and environmental protection.

There is no substitute for water, and as everyone is painfully aware, corporations don’t care about the environment – and they don’t care about human rights – they care about profit.

In the developed world it’s easy to take water for granted. Turn on any tap, and it comes rushing out, clean and plentiful, even in the arid Southwest, where the Colorado River Basin is struggling through its 11th year of drought; in most cities a month’s supply still costs less than cable or a cell-phone plan.

Water privatization, until recently, was an almost exclusively Third World issue. In the late 1990's the World Bank infamously required scores of impoverished countries—most notably Bolivia—to privatize their water supplies as a condition of desperately needed economic assistance. The hope was that markets would eliminate corruption and big multinationals would invest the resources needed to bring more water to more people. By 2000, Bolivian citizens had taken to the streets in a string of violent protests. Bechtel—the multinational corporation that had leased their pipes and plants—had more than doubled water rates, leaving tens of thousands of Bolivians who couldn’t pay without any water whatsoever. The company said price hikes were needed to repair and expand the dilapidated infrastructure. Critics insisted they served only to maintain unrealistic profit margins. Either way, the rioters sent the companies packing; by 2001, the public utility had resumed control.

On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries – in particular developing countries – to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

In November 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated that "The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights" – it also defined the right to water as “the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses”.

Water MUST be accessible to all people – regardless of their social and economic status. The European Citizen’s Initiative expected the European Commission to propose legislation implementing the Human Right to Water and Sanitation as recognized by the United Nations, and to promote the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all.

The European Water Movement continues to support local struggles in places such as Thesaloniki or Alcazar de San Juan to ensure that water is declared a common good. And it will remind candidates in the elections for the European Parliament of the importance of recognizing that water is a human right, to concretely act towards its implementation and to avoid liberalization and profit of water and sanitation services.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Plastic Pollutes Every Waterway, Sea and Ocean In The World

By Theodora Filis

When we damage our water systems, we're not only putting marine life at risk, we're also putting human life and resources in peril.

Our planet currently has six plastic islands made of trapped garbage. The damage to sea life by these plastic death traps can only be imagined, but scientists are now investigating the long-term impacts of toxic pollutants absorbed, transported, and consumed by fish and other marine life, including the potential effects on human health. 

Plastic that now pollutes our oceans and waterways is having

a severe impact on our environment and our economy. 
Seabirds, whales, sea turtles and other marine life are eating
marine plastic pollution and dying from choking, intestinal
blockage and starvation. 

Scientists previously thought that only actual plastic floating in the ocean could harm marine animals. But, new research proves there are additional unseen dangers being created by the plastic we discard daily. Initially it was thought that large plastic rubbish heaps were caused by shipping fleets that crisscross our oceans everyday. Although an estimated 639,000 plastic containers thrown overboard everyday do contribute to ocean death traps, this only represents 20% of the overall plastic pollution that flows into our seas, with the other 80% originating from land sources. 

New research is being done on the overall effects our continued disposal of plastics is having on our marine life. We know marine life is being affected to some extent, we know there are already many species on the brink of extinction, yet we continue to use and dispose of millions of tons of plastic into our precious oceans. Plastic floating islands are not killing our marine life – humans are.

A recent study headed by Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy at Nihon University in Japan, has shown that some of these plastics could actually be decomposing in the sea, releasing potentially toxic chemicals into the habitat of all our marine life. Scientists previously believed that plastics only broke down at very high temperatures and over hundreds of years. Saido's team, however, collected water samples from oceans across the globe and found that these samples contained derivatives of polystyrene, a common plastic used in disposable cutlery, Styrofoam and DVD cases among other things.

To prove that there was a link between these toxic compounds and plastic, Saido's team were able to simulate plastic decomposition at 30ÂșC, leaving bis-phenol A (BPA) and PS oligomers in the water, the same compounds discovered in the ocean samples – compounds that are not naturally found in ocean water.

Finding BPA specifically in the water is a major concern as previous studies have shown that exposure to this compound can have an effect on an animal's hormone system. If an animal eats plastic, the plastic will not break down in the animal's system, but when the substance has been released into the animal’s natural environment the substance may be absorbed by the animal. What effect this could have on animal's reproduction systems or ability to fight disease is anyone's guess.

Consider The Environmental Impact of Offshore Drilling in the Mediterranean

By Theodora Filis

The doubling of the world's population over the past five decades is putting great strain on deep-sea ecosystems, which cover more than half of Earth. According to researchers gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, these ecosystems are now threatened by the same kind of mass industrialization common on land during the 20th century.

The Earth's oceans are all connected to one another. Until the year 2000, there were four recognized oceans: the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic. In the Spring of 2000, the International Hydro-graphic Organization delimited a new ocean, the Southern Ocean (it surrounds Antarctica and extends to 60 degrees latitude). There are also many seas (smaller branches of an ocean); seas are often partly enclosed by land. The largest seas are the South China Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Our nation’s oceans, waves and beaches are vital recreational, economic and ecological treasures that will be polluted by an increase in offshore oil and gas drilling.

Sea Shepherd Deepwater Ground Zero ***Exclusive Footage****

The Gulf oil spill (also known as the BP oil spill, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or Gulf of Mexico oil spill) took place on April 20, 2010. The rig exploded, but at first seemed to emit no oil. A leak eventually was found – 1,000 barrels of oil flooded into the Gulf's water every day. This oil spill was the worst man-made environmental disaster in all of United States history. Water was ruined and undrinkable, marine animals washed ashore dead, and everything was coated in a thick film of oil. A year later it was said that "fish and seabirds were marinating in black sludge."

Today there are some 2,000 platforms drilling on deep sea ocean floors, bringing with it the potential for environmental disaster of the sort we saw with the Deepawater Horizon.

The discovery in late 2010 of natural gas off Israel’s Mediterranean shores triggered neighboring countries to look more closely at their own waters. The results revealed that the entire eastern Mediterranean is swimming in huge untapped oil and gas reserves. That discovery is having enormous political, geopolitical as well as economic consequences. It well may have potential military consequences too.

Preliminary exploration has confirmed similar reserves of gas and oil in the waters off Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and potentially, Syria.

Greece imports almost all of its oil and natural gas, spending about 5 percent a year of its GDP on the purchases. It pays about 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) a year alone on oil to produce electricity for dozens of islands that are not connected to the national power grid. 

Not surprisingly, amid its disastrous financial crisis the Greek government began serious exploration for oil and gas. Since then the country has been in a curious kind of a dance with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and EU governments, over who will control and ultimately benefit from the huge resource discoveries there.

In December 2010, Greece’s Energy Ministry formed a special group of experts to research the prospects for oil and gas in Greek waters. Greece’s Energean Oil & Gas began increased investment into drilling in the offshore waters after a successful smaller oil discovery in 2009. Major geological surveys were made. Preliminary estimates total offshore oil in Greek waters exceeds 22 billion barrels in the Ionian Sea off western Greece and approximately 4 billion barrels in the northern Aegean Sea.

The southern Aegean Sea and Cretan Sea are yet to be explored, so the numbers could be significantly higher. An earlier Greek National Council for Energy Policy report stated that “Greece is one of the least explored countries in Europe regarding hydrocarbon (oil and gas-w.e.) potentials.”

Despite what many Greeks believe to be a financially rewarding endeavor, offshore drilling will have damaging effects on their environment, and ultimately their strong tourism industry. 

Oceans provide us with vital sources of protein, energy, minerals and other products. Creates over half our oxygen, drives weather systems and natural flows of energy and nutrients around the world, transports water masses many times greater than all the rivers on land combined and keeps the Earth habitable.

Let's try to remember that the next time we want to exploit, pollute, and abuse our oceans and seas.