Water Issues Blog

This Monday´s WSIC event provided a refreshing look at an issue that isn´t drying up: global water rights. (Those will be my first and last puns, I promise.) Like a lot of WSIC events, this one featured two guest speakers: Tara Seucharan and Michael Brothers, both members of the Council of Canadians.

Tara opened the discussion with a review of what the Council of Canadians has stood for since its founding in the mid-1980s. She emphasized the Council´s ferocity in protecting Canadian interests, as well as its successes. Today, it is the largest citizen advocacy group in the country. The Toronto chapter is four years old, and water rights is one of its key campaign areas. The reason for that, Tara feels, is that we take our water for granted. We´re privileged to have clean, safe drinking water straight from our taps; and yet, Toronto continues to dump raw sewage directly into Lake Ontario.

Globally, there is a water crisis. Five billion people lack access to clean water. 6,500 children die each day from waterborne diseases. Six billion people lack adequate sanitation. More have cellphones than toilets. To supply their needs lakes and rivers have been diverted, and aquifers are being depleted. The export of water, while possibly lucrative, has permanent and unforeseeable consequences, and the legal commoditization of water would leave us unable to protect this public resource.

Perhaps we feel a disconnect between our situation and water security in other parts of the world? The global justice movement concerning water rights was born in South America, in response to draconian governmental and industrial measures to control water supplies. Many wars have been fought over this issue.

If Canadians feel insulated from all this, they shouldn´t. Tara pointed out that the abundance of Canadian freshwater reserves is a myth. Yes, Canada has a lot of water; but it has no national standards for clean drinking water, nor any policies governing bulk exports of water. Too little thought and money goes into freshwater infrastructure overall.

Sanitation, Tara pointed out, is also a crucial element of the water security debate. However, it doesn´t receive the emphasis it deserves because, let´s face it: the topic isn´t pleasant. More funding is needed to address this issue and increase awareness.

Tara concluded by discussing the issue of the Great Lakes being defined as a `commons´-an idea that has proven controversial.

Next, Michael spoke about privatization and commoditization of water. How real is the threat of privatization? he asked us.

Michael recalled being invited to a symposium on water issues at the University of Toronto. While there, he heard privatization being raised as the only possible solution to the rising price of water. But to Michael, this business case made no sense at all. And when he offered to explain why, no one wanted to listen.

Some people believe that if you commoditize a thing, you can control it.

Michael went on to describe several examples of flawed water policy in industrialized nations, highlighting Atlanta and Hamilton among the municipalities guilty of short-sightedness and poor organization. Toronto, too, has made mistakes. It´s already an old story.

So where is all this headed?

Michael wants to see more low-impact development-more green infrastructure; more attention paid to separating the drinking water system from sewage and storm water systems; more localized water treatment. In particular he emphasized the great burden placed on Toronto´s sewage system by combining sewage and stormwater runoff in the same system, dramatically increasing the burden and overloading it during heavy precipitation.

He would also like to see fewer politicians taking their cues from companies. It´s all about governance.

Having completed their remarks, the speakers took questions from the floor. There were many. Topics raised included the specifics of the UN´s role in global water rights, funding for Canadian water control, pollution monitoring and control, and strategies for better engaging the Canadian public about the seriousness of this issue, both around the world and at home.

To me, this last topic was the one that meant the most. How do you spawn engagement? With education and dialogue-the two things WSIC is all about. That´s why we do what we do. And that´s why these meetings matter.

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1 Comment on "Water Issues Blog"

  • Ridhika says

    1) WORSEN2) g) Garbage a) Air Pollution c) Pollution from factories e)food potlluion/contamination k) Drinking water/Water potlluion d) Sea and beach potlluion h) Insecticides and pesticides j) Traffic l) Using energy in bad ways f) Sewage problems (????? ?????) b) Radioactive/Dangerous waste m) Noise i) Not enough awareness among the peopleI know cairo is a lot of noise, but that is common for just a populated city, so that is way it is 2nd last. with the not enough awareness among people what do you exactly mean? awareness about what? health and diseases? or with the potlluion issue?I just noticed this as a tourist, and these are my biggest problems against egypt. people really don’t know how to go green . What I would like to see is less potlluion from the factories, people turning off their cars when not used (Idle), More garbage cans (instead of piling it on a corner of Cairo’s streets to let sheep/cat/dog to eat), control wild animals, enforce recycling, cut down of the usage of plastics, and enforce driving laws/rules.

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