A growing human population, climate change and pollution are contributing to growing threats to the basics of life - including water - in areas around the world. In an especially disturbing use of wealth by the world's 0.1%, the world's less fortunate are seeing this threat grow because of greed.
According to an article at the Scientific American website :
As a growing population stresses the world's food and water supplies, corporations and investors in wealthy countries are buying up foreign farmland and the freshwater perks that come with it.The article gives an example of a plantation in Ethiopia where the foreign owners have diverted water from a river which has been used by thousands for farming and fishing.
From Sudan to Indonesia, most of the land lies in poverty-stricken regions, so experts warn that this widespread purchasing could expand the gap between developed and developing countries.
The “water grabbing” by corporations amounts to 454 billion cubic meters per year globally, according to a new study by environmental scientists. That’s about 5 percent of the water the world uses annually.
Greater hunger in developing nations is expected to result. According to the article:
For countries reliant on farming and already suffering from poverty, the potential impacts are huge, said Paolo D’Odorico, a University of Virginia professor and co-author of the new report that estimates the water supplies at stake. About 66 percent of the total deals are in countries with high hunger rates.While some international business activity is regulated, these land grabs aren't controlled. It's an example of how "rights" are twisted in interactions between rich and poor. The article indicates international land sales aren't regulated because land is a matter of national sovereignty. There's certainly some logic to that. However, when poor countries feel they can't afford not to let foreign businesspeople take over large areas of land, it actually weakens aspects of their sovereignty.
“In many of these countries, the sum of the water being grabbed would be enough to eliminate malnourishment,” said D’Odorico, who collaborated with scientists from Italy’s Polytechnic University of Milan.
The article tells us:
In 2011, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations released voluntary guidelines, urging investors to first think about the rights and needs of the people and communities where the land is located.The UN might take more effective action if it were not dominated by the rich countries. The UN General Assembly has limited power. It's the UN Security Council that can make strong, binding and enforced decisions. The permanent members of the Security Council - the ones who have veto power over any decisions - are richer countries.
“Capitalist firms are not Boy Scouts, and they are unlikely to place moral codes and ‘good governance’ above the interests and demands of their owners or shareholders,” according to a paper published last year by researchers at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands.
Do these land grabs really harm poor countries? Some argue that this process moves poor nations towards more bountiful industrial farming and modernization which can help the people in developing nations. There are several problems with this. First, the obvious point is the land grabbing is not motivated by a desire to reach those goals, are not limited to cases in which such improvements would result, and they are not coordinated to best accomplish that. Those who genuinely want it to benefit the needy should support international regulations which work to that end. It's also hard to accept claims that rich nations are helping modernize poor nations when those same rich nations are actively trying to skim the best professionals from poor countries and take those professionals to the rich nations for the benefit of corporations there. Wouldn't developing nations modernize more quickly if they weren't losing their best professionals?
If modernization requires huge mass-production farms with wage-based farm labor rather than small farms, we still need to ask what the wages will be. Will the wages the foreign businesses offer provide a better standard of living to employees who no longer have their own farms to supplement their paychecks, or will they be worse off as businesspeople charge more for rent, food, water and other needs?
Leaving this up to the marketplace is risky at best. Majority rule and human needs should control modernization, not blind greed.