Is there a right to water?

Does he have a right to that water?

Does he have a right to that water?

I apologize to those who might be offended, but it’s hard to think of a more stupid question. It’s a perverse–and lethally misleading–reversal of the real question: Do some individuals have the right to hoard and otherwise dominate a basic component of life and withhold it from others if they can’t pay for it?

Is there a right to air? This isn’t debated because air cannot as yet be sequestered and treated as private property. Thus there is no motivation to establish an intellectual narrative to support the absurdity that privatizing air and allowing the market to determine its distribution is the only rational approach. (Of course, as long as corporations dominate our lawmaking bodies, our right to clean air remains an open question.)

At this point, corporatism dominates not just the world’s economic network, but pretty much the entire edifice of thinking and discourse–the definition of what life is and should be about. They have us believing an endless array of absurd ideas about ourselves and our relationship to the planet and its resources. But the most laughable fiction is that they are there for us and that they should be entrusted with the stewardship of our most precious, elemental substance and that the insane drive to maximize profit above all other considerations is what should determine its distribution.

Witness this recent editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle (from which I ripped off the title) in which the writer frets that the skittish likes of international water conglomerates¬† Veolia, Suez, and RWE may be frightened off by the specter of a universal right to water and as a result will withhold their water management magic from developing countries. There is so much wrong with this way of thinking–a logical implication, for example, is that definitions of human rights should now be vetted and approved by corporate boards. But let’s just ponder the basic fact that these businesses have a miserable record of failure across the globe.

Look, we–those who inhabit and more or less thrive in rich developed countries and are rarely more than a minute or so from torrents of clean, disease-free water, which is not, by the way, provided by corporations–have the luxury of daintily sipping from our bottles of Evian as we hold heady–and smug and condescending–parlor debates about what should and shouldn’t be a right. If we were suddenly forced to live like billions on the globe–with a meager daily ration of filthy water and watching our children die of malnutrition and dysentery–there would be no question in our minds about a human being’s right to water.


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