Feeling thirsty? Reaching out for that bottle of packaged water? Imagining health and purity trickling down your gut with each sip? Think again. You might be better off filling your glass with the humble tap water. The water flowing from your tap has been subjected to an inordinate unsubstantiated stigma over the years, all thanks to the corporatisation and privatisation of the most basic human necessity.
So, who owns the water? Can water be owned? Is it a property or a common resource? The answers form the mainstay of Irena Salina’s award-winning documentary FLOW: For Love Of Water (2008).
The documentary goes on to establish how the stigma has been propagated, despite the fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not been able to confirm that bottled water is any safer than tap water. Yes, even in a country like ours. In fact, tap water has to pass through water treatment plants and abide by set regulations. No such stringent regulations control the bottled water because there is no primary monitoring agency designated for the industry. We are not even getting into the plastic pollution percolating into "drinking" water and filling our overflowing landfills.
And this privatisation of water has been propagated by corporate giants like Nestle, The Coca Cola Company, Suez and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to Salina. If anything, the packaging of water has led to water shortages owing to the constant pumping, and changed the land infrastructure and use for the worse.
All this corporate chicanery is to fill the coffers of the world’s domineering water cartel, as the documentary establishes. Speaking from a viewer's perspective, if this does not amount to a gross violation of human rights, we don't know what does. It has proved to be a huge setback to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: to provide clean water and sanitation for all.
You don’t need to take us or the documentary at word value. According to UN estimates, in 2007 the world spent USD 90 billion on bottled water. A decade thence, the global bottled water market was valued at around USD 238 billion in 2017. It is expected to reach USD 349 billion in 2021. In contrast, what is the cost of providing clean, accessible, drinking water to the entire planet? USD 150 billion a year, says the World Bank.
The corporatisation and privatisation of water is not limited to the disproportionate costs. Irena’s peregrinating lens finds its way to countries like South Africa, Bolivia, and even India, where Coca Cola has allegedly polluted water sources for entire communities.
A classic case of corporate greed exploiting the masses' needs is that of Plachimada in Kerala in the early 2000s.
In this quaint tribal hamlet, the Coca Cola bottling plant not only polluted groundwater over years making it unsuitable for human consumption, but the corporate giant also marketed the toxic sludge generated from the plant to farmers by claiming (falsely) that it was high-value organic manure. The result? The entire region’s farmlands are arid and uncultivable, even now — nearly 16 years after the plant was shut down. Their wells are still contaminated and the tribals await monetary compensation of Rs 216.26 crore even today.
The director gathers the voices of water activists including India's waterman Rajendra Singh and food sovereignty advocate Vandana Shiva, who led the World Water Conference in Plachimada in 2004.
The film opens with a brief touch on the water for agricultural use that adds to the world’s water woes. With 70 per cent of the world’s water being used for farming, agriculture is a colossal consumer of blue gold. With pesticides and chemicals from agriculture being washed to the river and larger water bodies, the aquatic ecosystems are being altered for the worse.
The documentary won the Grand Jury Award at the Mumbai International Film Festival and the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at the United Nations Film Festival. However, that is not why you should watch it. Watch it because water, the most basic necessity of life, is in crisis. And it directly translates to the world and humanity being in crisis. And our present response to that looming catastrophe is indifference, irresponsible and irrational, to say the very least. And FLOW is that cinematic masterpiece that hits the nail hard, right on the head.
Watch the documentary on Amazon Prime Videos and understand how your choices exacerbate the world’s water woes. Be water wise.