Today I’m going to review an award winning documentary I recently watched called Blue Gold: World Water Wars. This documentary is based on the book Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke. Both Maude and Tony have been heavily involved in the fight for clean water for decades, and you see a lot of them in this movie. Maude is the co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, chairs the board of Food and Water Watch, and is a founding member of the International Forum on Globalization. Tony has been the chair of the Action Canada Network, is an author, and activist that works closely with Maude on many projects. This documentary takes us all over the world and is a great story of corruption, greed, desperation, tragedy, hope, and success all wrapped up in a hour and a half. So let’s get to it.
The movie is broken up into several sections each talking about a different topic but all of the sections are connected to each other. Throughout the movie animations are used to illustrate different ideas, but not used too much that you feel like you’re watching a children’s movie. The documentary starts by talking a little about pollution and quickly moves on to talking about how we’re pumping all of the water out of the ground throughout the world. It gives several examples of why this is a problem, such as sinkholes that have opened up around the world in cities that have depleted their watershed. They talk to some farmers and explain that farmers are required to use a certain amount of water otherwise they lose their water rights. This is a ridiculous idea, and makes it impossible for farmers that would like to conserve water to do so. It goes on to talk about the relationship between deforestation and soil erosion, explaining how we’re slowly turning our world into a desert.
The second section talks about urbanization and how big cities and communities are popping up in places that don’t have any water. So what do they do? Take water from somewhere else and pipe it to the big cities. One of the biggest cities that does this is Los Angeles, which is basically in the middle of a desert. The go on to talk about several other problems with urbanization and how it’s wreaking havoc on the water system. From here they move and talk a little about dams, comparing rivers to veins. Suggesting that like veins, if you clog a river you will kill it and the ecosystem that it used to feed. They end this section by suggesting that cities need to find out what their water limits are and live within those limits. Makes sense, but very few cities think like this and instead just depend on taking water from somewhere else, and someone else.
At this point we start talking about the privatization of water and how water has been turned from a right for all to a commodity that has to be paid for. This will continue to be the theme for the rest of the movie, and it gives you an insight into something you wouldn’t necessarily experience unless you were there. We’re introduced to the huge multinational corporations that control the water in a lot of cities across the world, as well as most of Africa. 1992 was the first time water was called a commodity by the UN, and since then big business has moved in and taken control. We then hear about the World Bank and its policies which exploit poor countries and help the big water companies. We’re taken through a number of cities and countries and shows who owns their water (and basically controls the cities); Buenos Aires: Suez, Puerto Rico: Veolia, Jakarta, Indonesia: RWE/Thames. So at this point I was thinking, “ok, this is terrible for these places, but it’s good that the US is holding onto their water”. Wrong! New York City is controlled by Suez, Seattle: RWE/Thames, Grand Canyon, AZ: Veolia and it goes on and on.
It’s shocking how much control these companies have over our water and they don’t care about us at all. We’re shown a clip from the International Conference on the Right to Water where Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch, is giving a speech on the concerns regarding privatization of water and how it’s negatively affecting people. What is the executive from Suez doing during this speech? Talking on the phone and not paying attention because they don’t care! They’re all greedy companies that only care about their bottom line. We then move into looking at the effects of privatization on citizens; anything from the water being polluted to prices going up to the corruption of local officials. One part that was especially shocking was when they showed that in Africa Coca Cola rules all and the only water you can get is Dasani which is made by Coca Cola. What do you think is more expensive there, Coke or water? Yeah, it’s the water.
From here we have a little conversation about corporations that are getting involved but are not water companies. Companies like GE and Proctor & Gamble who are going into places where the water is polluted, cleaning it, and then selling it back to the people for profit because now that they’ve cleaned the water it is considered property of these companies.
At this point in the movie we start to hear real stories of privatization around the world. We begin in the US with the fight against Nestle, then move to Ghana where they give two very sad examples. One is that they never know when the water is going to come from the taps so the people leave them open in order to know when the water is there. But here’s the trick, since the tap is open air moves through the pipes, and the meter picks this up and charges the people as if they’re getting water. The other shows how the water is piped to a community but there is a meter on the tap and you have to scan a key in order to get the water, and it keeps track of every drop you get (towards the end of the movie they tell about a happy ending to this one).
Everyone thinks that the water wars are coming in the future, but next we hear how they’ve already started, and have been going on for decades. The worse was in Bolivia, where the World Bank wouldn’t give the local water co-op a loan, and forced them to privatize the water. The Bolivian people didn’t like this, and protests started across the country. In the end people had been arrested, injured, and killed, but it wasn’t for nothing. The subsidiary to Bechtel was kicked out of the country and the water was given back to the people. We go on to hear how strategic places around the world are being militarized to protect water sources, and even how the Bush family is buying up land in Paraguay along the border with Brazil. Why would they do this? Brazil has the world’s largest aquifer, and if you think the world’s running out of water you want to be close to it.
The last part of the movie brings us back to a more positive side and basically has the message that it’s not too late. We look at some solutions to the problem, get some tips on things we can change in our everyday life to save some water, and some examples of places that have succeeded in getting rid of the tyrannical rule of these water companies.
Overall I enjoyed this documentary. I’m always skeptical when I put a documentary on because a lot of them are very over the top and skew the facts towards their side, but I didn’t get the feeling from this one. The people in this movie are genuinely concerned and trying to help the less fortunate keep their water. And although this documentary was made in 2008 it is still relevant because everything it talks about is still going on all over the world. I would definitely recommend that you take the time to give Blue Gold a watch (it’s on Netflix right now). Here’s a trailer for the movie:
Please let me know what you thought about this review. It’s the first one I’ve ever done so your responses would be very helpful. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.