Merlino: Corporations infringe on right to fresh water

Some may see the privatization of fresh water in areas around the world as an opportunity for economic rejuvenation of impoverished areas, but this is not the case. Corporations such as The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are some of the multinationals responsible for purchasing the rights to fresh water in many developing nations, while Nestlé is doing so right here in the United States. Through government contracts, these corporations are able to extract, bottle and sell local water for a profit. By selling it back to domestic populations who could have retrieved it for free, these corporations directly violate human rights. Can one truly own the rights to a natural commodity such as water?

In fact, United Nations Resolution 64/292, passed on July 28, 2010, calls for “safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all” and recognizes access as a basic human right.

India, however, faces a very different reality. The state of Uttar Pradesh is currently seeing detrimental effects due to years of water extraction by Coca-Cola. The ground water levels in the area have reached new lows, with hand and bore pump wells drying up as well. This has placed the local community in dire circumstances, as the government has forbidden them from extracting crop irrigation water as well as drinking water. This would make sense if there were simply no water for anyone, but Coca Cola still has permission to fulfill its needs to reach its monthly quota. This leaves the question of human morality: is profit more important than a human life?

According to article 39 (B) of the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Indian Constitution, “The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to serve the common good.” Even though this is the written law, we are still seeing violations of Indian civilian rights under article 39 (B) for the profit of multinational corporations.

Not only are human rights being violated abroad, they are being violated domestically as well. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation took Nestlé to court over the pumping of a Sanctuary Spring aquifer in Mecosta County, Michigan in 2000. The Michigan Environmental Protection Act states that “any person” has the authority to bring a legal action to protect the state’s natural resources, which gave the MCWC the right to challenge Nestlé.

This law once empowered the average citizen, allowing him or her to have “standing” in court. This ended in 2009 when the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the original ruling in favor of Nestlé.

According to research from the International Bottled Water Association, 2012 marked the year for record highs within the industry. Sales reached $11.8 billion and the volume of water bought increased more than any other beverage.

It is unclear how the world landscape of water will be in the future, but we can base our assumptions off of past and current trends. With the world’s population growing at an immense rate while holding a finite supply of natural resources, it is not an unreasonable belief that there will be an explosion in the price of safe drinking water with a decrease in accessibility.

So where do we go from here? The answer still remains unclear, but if we don’t change our current habits, the future will be bleak for everyone.