Inspired by the May 2011 Yoga Journal, “The Water Issue,” I have decided to again show “Thirst” today in my Sociology of War and Peace class. Today we will consider “resource conflicts,” having read work by Michael Klare, Five College professor of peace and world security studies, and director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies (PAWSS). I used to show this quite a bit while covering this topic in class, and I’m inspired to return to that practice. I mean, there are two Cousteaus featured in this issue of Yoga Journal, granddaughter Alexandra, of Blue Legacy, whose bailiwick is rivers, and grandson Fabien, filmmaker.
In order to give my students some sense of generational difference, I often recall for them the time my family moved from black and white TV to color. Understandably, it’s “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” that stands foremost in my recollection. Gray and silver forms were at once vibrantly colorful! Except that I had also been to the New York Aquarium, who knew? My dad was in the Navy, and often gets that dreamy look in his eye when staring out at the sea. He always had us out on ventures near water as a kid. Fortunately, he now lives two miles from the beach, and participates in sea turtle protection with SCUTE. I suppose one could say I learned a lot about stewardship of nature from him.
But “Thirst” is about protecting water for human consumption, though I see no inconsistency between the approaches advocated in this point-of-view documentary and preservation of water for nature’s sake. We are a part of nature, after all, and mostly water. All life depends on clean, potable water. We are at the year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster (BP Gulf spill), and so should pause to reconsider what we take for granted each time we turn on the tap. This is especially so in the water-rich Northeast, where this gift means we have a special responsibility to steward this natural resource. I have been spent a week doing service-learning with high school students, in Gallup, NM, where water is much more scarce. “Don’t waste water!” was the edict our site coordinator gave us, wisdom passed down from her grandmother. She used to bathe the grandkids in an inch of water, three of them, starting with the least dirty one. Here is a photo of the very scene in which she is telling the students to conserve water while washing the paintbrushes.
I love how this documentary intersperses long loving looks at water, with interviews and unfolding action. I am happy to revisit it with my class today.
Is water part of a shared “commons,” a human right for all people? Or is it a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded in a global marketplace? “Thirst” tells the stories of communities in Bolivia, India, and the United States that are asking these fundamental questions.
Over a billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Each year, millions of children die of diseases caused by unsafe water. The numbers are increasing.
These facts drive a debate in the opening scenes of “Thirst” at the 2003 Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan. Politicians, international bankers, and corporate executives gather to decide who will control global fresh water supplies. Their consensus for large dams and privatized, corporate water systems is challenged by experts and activists who assert that water is a human right, not a commodity to be traded on the open market.
Oscar Olivera, a community leader from Bolivia, startles a panel of CEOs with his words, “Many of the companies represented here have stained the water with the blood of our compatriots.” The film briefly shifts to Bolivia where Olivera leads a full-scale insurrection against a water privatization contract with the US-based Bechtel Corporation. Tens of thousands of people battle police and the army to protect their water rights. After a sharpshooter kills 17-year-old Victor Hugo Daza, the government is forced to expel one of the world’s most powerful corporations.
The central story in “Thirst” takes place in Stockton, California. Mayor Gary Podesto proposes to give control of the water system to a consortium of global water corporations. He is surprised by the reaction as Stockton residents create a new grassroots coalition to demand a say in the decision. They are worried about price hikes, water quality, and layoffs of public employees, who tend to be women or people of color. African American water plant supervisor Michael McDonald sees democracy itself at stake in this battle.
In India, a grassroots movement for water conservation has rejuvenated rivers, literally changing the desert landscape. Led by Rajendra Singh, who locals call “a modern day Gandhi”, the movement opposes government efforts to sell water sources to companies like Coke and Pepsi. Singh journeys across India to organize resistance, finding millions eager to join his crusade.
The water activists from Bolivia, Stockton and India all meet at the World Water Forum in Kyoto as part of a new movement against global water privatization. As the Forum reaches it final day, no one anticipates the explosive outcome.
via Thirst – Take Action.