Future  Water Wars: A Summary 
By Walter Sorochan
Posted July 25, 2010   Work in progress

Summary:  This article, with documentation, briefly summarizes the status of water in the world.  Water is essential for all living things and the world appears to be running out of safe drinking water.  Although water may be a human right, people in all parts of the world, today as in the past, fight over water. Today, corporations are usurping water from rivers, lakes and underground reservoirs to make money selling bottle water, to make soft drinks, and to irrigate crops as food for cash; all at the expense of depriving affordable drinking water to poor people.  Another dilemma: During this current economic crisis, state and local governments are debating whether to privatize public water distribution systems as a way to save money.  Water has become a biological, political and economic issue! 

Water gives life to plants, animals and all living things. People build cities where there is a supply of drinking water.  It is only in the last 100 years that cities have been built in deserts; and water has been imported into deserts in California and Arizona to build large cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix.  Unfortunately, large populated cities in southern California are now beginning to ration water; thus setting the stage for future water wars.

"Water is fundamental for life and health. The right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights."   The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, 2002.

“Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right."   UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in 2001   |   Wiki: Water Politics

The  earth has a finite supply of fresh water, stored in aquifers, surface waters and the atmosphere. Sometimes oceans are mistaken for available water, but the amount of energy needed to convert saline water to potable water is prohibitive today, explaining why only a very small fraction of the world's water supply derives from desalination

The most notable “water war” erupted in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in January of 2000. Shiva: Bechtel water involvement  It captured headlines because it was the peasants who fought against a corporation [ Bechtel ] and won the right to have free water. [ view video below ]

But there have been many previous wars over water [ see references: Map: historical water wars  |  Water wars list ]

There have been numerous successful citizen revolts in United States against corporate take overs of water. Lohan: Ohio rejects water   Swizer: Michigan water war | Michigan fight for water  Thill: California water threat  Hauter: New Jersey reject Corp water  Fried: Florida rejects outsourcing water

Water is Life and Health:

17dot1a "More than a billion people across the globe do not have access to safe water.

17dot1a Every day 3900 children die as a result of insufficient or unclean water supplies."  Malhotra: world without water

17dot1a "One billion people without access to clean drinking water

17dot1a 2.6 billion without adequate sanitation.

17dot1a 30-40% of water 'lost' through illegal tapping and leaks.

17dot1a According to some estimates, every year 34 million people--mostly children--die from water-related diseases like diarrhea and malaria. About 80 percent of these diseases and over one third of related deaths are caused by contaminated waters."  (Source: UN World Water Report) Kinver: Water Stix 

17dot1a  About 85% of Americans receive their water from public utility departments. Engelhardt: water war in America

 The Real Water Danger 

"The danger is that most citizens don't even know there's a problem. Water systems are generally underground and out of sight. Most of us don't think about our water until the tap runs dry or we flush and it doesn't go away. That indifference could cost us dearly, but privatization is not yet destiny."   Engelhardt: water war in America

"Water is a huge potential market. About 85% of Americans receive their water from public utility departments, making water infrastructure, worth trillions of dollars, a prime target for privatization. To drive their agenda, water industry lobbyists have consistently opposed federal aid for public water agencies, hoping that federal cutbacks would drive market expansion. So far, the strategy has worked. In 1978, just before the Reagan-era starvation diet began, federal funding covered 78% of the cost for new water infrastructure. By 2007, it covered just 3%." Engelhardt: water war in America

"In recent years, federal disinvestment in water services has sparked a new era of privatization with contemporary players repeating promises made by nineteenth century entrepreneurs. Adams: collecting rain a no no The world's largest private water companies have quickly entered the American market: Suez and Veolia from France and Germany's RWE/Thames. Few Americans have heard of them, but the Big Three have dominated the global water business and are among the world's largest corporations. Together they control subsidiaries in more than 100 countries." Engelhardt: water war in America

All the world has a pending water crisis, although most of us may not be aware of it.  The future wars will be fought about water and food and not oil. Barlow: water crisis   You can learn more about this future crisis by viewing the video below or/and reading about how various countries are coping with the shortage of water.

For information in Spanish on communities and organizations defending public water, check out: Spanish translation :   Water war in Ecuador   |   La Red Vida

A World Without Water is a fascinating story about the inevitable truth that the world is running out of its most precious resource. First presented by the U.K.’s Channel Four, this timely film tells of the personal tragedies behind the mounting privatization of water supplies. Watch the complete video here:

 Water background 

All the water on earth: water estimates
water earth

Where is the largest supply of fresh water in the world? The map below illustrates that the largest reservoirs of potential water are in the Amazon river area of South America, Canada and Russia. water estimates   These estimates refer to fresh water in rivers, lakes, frozen ice caps and underground reservoirs. 

water avail2015

Water Wars:  One can speculate that future conflicts over water may occur in countries where there is a large supply of fresh water, as illustrated in the map above. Other water conflicts will occur in countries without adequate water. The "have-nots" will fight the "haves" for water between 2010 and 2040! Vaknin: Emerging water war  | Engelhardt: water war in America Shiva: Bechtel water involvement  |   Clayton: Next cartel   |  Adams: collecting rain a no no

In her book Vanada Shiva  Shiva: Bechtel water involvement  points out a growing concern that many people do not pay attention to what they do in their everyday lives. We take water for granted, and find it difficult to imagine a day when the tap runs dry. In Water Wars the author does an excellent job of analyzing the privatization, pollution, and profit of water in the International arena. She takes a scientific approach and explains the means and methods of water processing and extraction. In offering several tragic examples of where the water tables have already run dry in India, and the horrible loss of life which followed. Clearly, that which we take for granted in America is something of scarcity in other less fortunate countries. Either way, Shiva points out in her book the necessity of understanding that once the drinkable water is gone, there are no alternatives. Shiva: Bechtel water involvement 
Water Privatization  Water privatization Adams: collecting rain a no no

Water is not only essential for life, but for growing food as well.

H2O_corp But while the global demand for water is on the rise, the supply is shrinking. Water-intensive industrial agriculture, urban and industrial pollution, breakneck industrial development and other ecological threats are depleting freshwater supplies.

Policies driven by institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have left little room for local decisions and instead have forced privatization of water on poor countries. These international finance institutions make loans contingent on privatization and increased cost recovery‚ which often requires charging high fees for water even for people living in extreme poverty. The results in numerous countries have been disastrous, less access to water for the poor, extremely high rates, and poor water quality.

There is a growing struggle against corporations growing water-thirsty cash crops destined for export, while millions of people still go thirsty or fall sick from polluted water. And it is not just the agribusiness giants like Cargill, Bunge, and ADM who are hijacking water in Latin America. Bottling companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestlé and Danone are going after underground water resources, including one of the world's biggest, the Guaraní Acuifer, located beneath Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. 

To make matters worse, some of the biggest food companies in the world are now modifying rivers to transport cheap agricultural commodities from inland areas out to coastal ports to be exported. Not only are these companies shipping massive quantities of cash crops , and the water used to grow them, from the heartland of South America to be used somewhere else, they are getting public funding to do it.

But Latin America is also rich in social movements that are fighting back against the abuses of their land and water! The “water war” waged by Cochabamba residents in Bolivia in 2000, led by trade unions and campesino organizations against private water giant Bechtel, inaugurated a decade of resistance against corporate control over water in Latin America. This movement has already resulted constitutional reforms to prevent water privatization and ensure public control of water resources in Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia and a successful constitutional plebiscite in Uruguay. Water privatization

Bottled water story Video:


 Information about water crises in Latin American countries: 


Argentina has suffered for more than a decade as the global guinea pig for water privatization experiments.

Bolivia   The movements to defend water, and all natural resources and public services, have grown stronger and bolder in recent years.


Chile has been one of the most privatization-friendly countries in Latin America, privatizing its water sector in the 1990s. However with the new center-left president, Michelle Bachelet, elected in January 2006, there may be a shift in the neo-liberal policies of corporate privatization that have governed Chile and allowed the distribution of its most precious resource to be governed by corporations for private profit.


In October 2000, just months after the people of Bolivia threw Bechtel out of Cochabamba, this very same company signed a water privatization contract in Guayaquil, Ecuador a city of almost 2 million inhabitants. After years of poor service, water cut-offs, flooding, and unsafe drinking water the residents of Guayaquil are organizing to demand their human rights , which include the right to clean and affordable water.


El Salvador is a country in crisis. Ninety percent of the country‚ natural water is contaminated, and half the population drinks untreated water. The people of El Salvador struggle to attend to the most basic necessities while the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank continue pushing the disastrous recipes of privatization.


In August 2003 thousands of protestors demonstrated against the policies imposed by the IMF, including water privatization policies.


Communities across the country are organizing to defend their rivers, streams, aquifers and lakes.


In Nicaragua, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) are promoting a policy of water privatization which will make it more difficult for citizens to obtain clean water at affordable rates.


Reforms for the public water sector designed by the international financial institutions in the 1990s caused water utilities to collapse into economic crisis. Now these same institutions argue that the public water sector has failed and privatization is the answer.


Puerto Rico too often serves as the guinea pig for corporate privatization policies.


Uruguay has gained a landmark victory in the struggle to defend water as a public good and a human right.

 Countries fighting water take-over:  World water conflicts


Adams Mike, "Collecting rainwater now illegal in many states as Big Government claims ownership over our water," Natural News, July 26, 2010.   Adams: collecting rain a no no

Apland Hitz Julia, "The Water Conflict in Ecuador," The Earth Institute, May 14, 2010.  Ecuador water war1

Barlow Maude, "Report Summary: BLUE GOLD THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS AND THE COMMODIFICATION OF THE WORLD'S WATER SUPPLY," International Forum on Globalization (IFG), June, 1999.   Barlow: water crisis

Clayton Mark, "Forget OPEC. The next cartel may export drinking water," The Christian Science Monitor / December 30, 2004. Clayton: Next cartel  "Forget OPEC. Some experts say the next cartel will be an organization of water-exporting countries. Others see more danger in local privatization of water, which could restrict access to the poor within nations."

Constance Paul, "Who won the water wars?" IDBAmerica, July 23, 2010. Constance: who won war   

Engelhardt Tom, "Tomgram: Snitow and Kaufman, Water Wars in America," TomDispatch, September 25, 2008.  Engelhardt: water war in America

"The spiraling collapse of the financial system may only intensify the quest for private investments in what is now the public sector. ...  This radical shift to the private sector could become one of history's largest transfers of ownership, control, and wealth from the public trust to the private till. Public utilities are a huge untapped source of revenue for local and state governments.  Water is one such public resource!

And a huge market it is. About 85% of Americans receive their water from public utility departments, making water infrastructure, worth trillions of dollars, a prime target for privatization. To drive their agenda, water industry lobbyists have consistently opposed federal aid for public water agencies, hoping that federal cutbacks would drive market expansion. So far, the strategy has worked. In 1978, just before the Reagan-era starvation diet began, federal funding covered 78% of the cost for new water infrastructure. By 2007, it covered just 3%."

"In the nineteenth century, water ownership and management in the United States was largely in private hands. As populations grew, private water companies did not have the resources or expertise to meet the need. Citizens demanded, and eventually won, modern public water systems, financed through bonds, operated by reliable engineers and experts, and accountable to local governments. The nation built a dazzling system of community waterworks that provided clean, reasonably priced water and sewer systems that still rank among the best in the world. But in recent years, federal disinvestment in water services has sparked a new era of privatization with contemporary players repeating promises made by nineteenth century entrepreneurs. The world's largest private water companies have quickly entered the American market: Suez and Veolia from France and Germany's RWE/Thames. Few Americans have heard of them, but the Big Three have dominated the global water business and are among the world's largest corporations. Together they control subsidiaries in more than 100 countries."

Fraser Barbara, "Water Wars Come to the Andes," Scientific American, May 19, 2009. Fraser: Andes water war In Peru, as glaciers decline and droughts increase, conflict and tension rise

Fried Kate, "Milwaukee Water System Lease Could Cost Community Millions Per Year," Food & Water Watch, November 4th, 2009.    New Food & Water Watch Report Finds that Privatizing System Could Raise Consumer Rates and Limit Community Choice   Fried: Milwaukee water report

Fried Kate, "Statewide Coalition Speaks Out Against Aqua Utility Florida’s Poor Water Quality and Service," Food & Water Watch, March 16, 2010.   Fried: Florida rejects outsourcing water

Hauter Wennonah, "Trenton Residents Drown Risky Water Deal," Food & Water Watch, June 16th, 2010.   Hauter: New Jersey reject Corp water Local Vote Latest Wave in National Trend Against Private Control. NJ Supreme court agrees  

Guidi Ruxandra, "Ecuadorian Water Law Sparks Outrage from Indigenous Communities," Americas Quarterly, October 23, 2009.   Guidi: water outrage Ecuador  

Israel-Palestine water war: Mid-east water war

"Israel / Palestine war is in large part being fought over water. The West Bank sits over a large aquifer. In addition, the Golan Heights - annexed by Israel from Syria - is the headwaters of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. In a desert, control of water is as vital as control of oil for modern societies."

Joiner Emily, "Bechtel's Ugly Ecuador Water Adventure,"  The Democracy Center, February 22, 2008.  Joiner: Ugly adventure

Kaufman Deborah and Alan Snitow, "The new corporate threat to our water supplies," Reimagination : published by TomDispatch.com, September 26, 2008. Kaufman: corporate threat to water supply

Kinver Mark, "Water policy 'fails world's poor,'" BBC News Science, March 9, 2006.   Kinver: Water Stix

Lohan Tara, "Barlow Maude: The growing right to water,"  AlterNet, February 14, 2008. Lohan: Battle for water

Barlow Maude, ""Water is blue gold, it's terribly precious," says Maude Barlow, who chairs for the Council of Canadians, an Ottawa-based citizens' watchdog. "Not too far in the future, we're going to see a move to surround and commodify the world's fresh water. Just as they've divvied up the world's oil, in the coming century there's going to be a grab."

Lohan Tara, "Voters reject water privatization," Alternet, November 05, 2008. Lohan: Ohio rejects water privatization  

" The people of Akron voted overwhelmingly to keep public control of their water system, voting 62 to 38 against Issue 8."

"Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter weighed in as well: Issue 8 would have leased Akron's sewer system to a private company for 99 years, a plan that has never been carried out in the U.S. and would have amounted to making the residents of Akron guinea pigs of a risky privatization experiment ... Privatization is not the cure to repairing ailing infrastructure systems. The evidence from the 86 percent of U.S. water systems under public control clearly shows higher efficiency with lower costs for ratepayers. In contrast, corporations' costs are higher and any efficiency premiums are often passed on to their shareholders. Indeed, the 14 percent of U.S. water utilities that are privately owned charge ratepayers anywhere from 13 percent to 50 percent more than their public counterparts."

Malhotra Reenita, " Documentary: A world without water,"  Malhotra: world without water 

Malhotra Reenita, "Solar water distillation -- nature's method of water purification,"   Malhotra: distillation | Distilling water

McGill University, "The coming water wars," McGill Reporter, September 21, 2000 - Volume 33 Number 02. McGill: coming water wars

OP Research papers:  Water wars 1 

Privatization: A fightback handbook: Handbook

Quinion, Michael, "Water War," World Wide Words, May 19, 2010.  Quinion: water war

"This is a term devised by environmentalists for a type of conflict (most probably a form of guerrilla warfare) which has not yet occurred, but which they predict will happen sometime shortly after the millennium through an acute shortage of water for drinking and irrigation. About 40 per cent of the world’s populations are already affected to some degree, but population growth, climate change and rises in living standards will worsen the situation: the UN Environment Agency warns that almost 3 billion people will be severely short of water within 50 years. Experts point to the disaster of the Aral Sea, which has already lost three-quarters of its water through diversion for irrigation of the rivers feeding it. Possible flash points have been predicted in the Middle East, parts of Africa and in many of the world’s major river basins, including the Danube. The term has been used for some years, happily only in a figurative sense, to describe disputes in the southern and south-western United States over rights to water extraction from rivers and aquifers."


Rosegrant Mark W., Ximing Cai, and Sarah A.Cline, "WATER AND FOOD TO 2025 Policy Responses to the Threat of Scarcity," INTERNATIONAL FOOD POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE. September 2002. Rosegrant: 2020 water projection  

Share the World's resources:  Key facts about water

Shiva Vandana, "Bechtel And Blood For Water: War As An Excuse For Enlarging Corporate Rule," April 25, 2003.  Shiva: Bechtel water involvement 

Suez Corp water record in USA,  Suez Corp: poor water record

Suez Environnement, the world’s second-largest water company, under the leadership of Paris Suez, United Water has grown into the second-largest private operator of municipal water systems in the United States. However, because the company has had a large number of high-profile failures, in recent years, it has won few new contracts to operate city water systems. As a result, it has focused on taking over other water companies to eliminate its competition.

Swizer Terry, "The people of Michigan find victory: Citizens for Water Conservation vs. Nestlé," Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, July 7, 2009.  Swizer: Michigan water war | Michigan fight for water

"Ms. Swier has been in the forefront of defending Michigan's waters against the Nestle Corporation's aggressive water mining operations. In the process, she has sounded the alarm that led to two major environmental campaigns to reform Michigan's water use laws and has focused public attention on the adverse impact of water diversion on wildlife habitat and human interests."

Ten top reasons to oppose water privatization:  10 reasons oppose privatization

Vaknin Sam, "The Emerging Water Wars," Global Politician, May 20, 2005.   Vaknin: Emerging water war

Water conflict chronology map: Map: historical water wars  |  Water wars list

Water estimates on earth: water estimates

"Water: The world's most valuable stuff," The Economist, May 20th 2010. Water: most valueable    "Mostly because of farming, water is increasingly scarce. Managing it better could help."

Thill Scott, "California's Water Woes Threaten the Entire Country's Food Supply," Alter net, June 06, 2009.  Thill: California water threat  

Waller Jennifer, "Cochabamba conference targets corporations," Worker's World, May 16, 2010. Waller: Cochabamba water war  

"Water privatization," Food and Water Watch:  Water privatization  

Wikipedia, "water crisis."  Wiki: water crisis  |  Wiki: Water Politics

World fight to save water: countries fighting water takeover

Zebechi Raul,"Ecuador: Water Wars…The Battle for Natural Resources Deepens," Sustainable Energy Partnership for the Americas, November 9, 2009.   Zebechi: Ecuador War