How Many Lives Does This Bottle Cost?
The scandalous truth behind the world’s drinking water
thought experiment: imagine a corporation sets up headquarters in your city. Large warehouses and factories are built, a new workforce is recruited, and a fleet of blue trucks stands ready and waiting. Then holes are drilled into the ground. Deep holes – more than a hundred metres deep, reaching far into the soil. The workers are searching for something. But what? When all that dribbles out from your taps and showerheads is a brown, stinking brew, you realise what the corporation is digging for: water.
After a short time the company makes the commodity available again. Packed in plastic bottles for 1,000 times its former price, the water can be bought in the supermarket – in fact, that is now the only place to obtain it. An absurd scenario? In some countries, water is still a public good and is not allowed to be entirely privatised – at least not yet. In many parts of the world, however, this scenario is far from unusual…
It is just after 6pm in Doornkloof, South Africa. Lawrence picks up a freshly packaged water bottle and makes his way home from the Nestlé bottling factory. To get there, the factory worker has to walk through a long tunnel that runs beneath the motorway. Lorries thunder by overhead, each of them laden with the water that he has just bottled. Lawrence lives in a village on the other side of the tunnel – simple wooden huts, cabin toilets, mountains of rubbish.
At home his children grab curiously at the half-litre bottle of water. Replenishments will arrive
“Water is life. Depriving a human of these natural resources is nothing short of murder!”
Moulana Usman Baig All India Imams Council
VALUABLE GOODS In Australia little thought would be given to a 0.5-litre bottle of water like this one. In countries like Nigeria, however, bottled water is vital for survival – but is more expensive than petrol.