Although "globalization" is one of the Jesuit priority options,
its meaning is not yet clearly grasped. One may say that globalization
refers to the flow of people, goods, money and information across all borders,
with both good and bad results. What motivates Jesuits to give preference
to "globalization" is not only its economic and political importance,
but also the fact that it greatly affects the lives of poor people all
over the world and gives rise to marginalization everywhere.
If this isn't clear enough, "water" can serve as a concrete instance
for grasping what globalization is all about. Water, is a natural resource
that is borderless, but the commercialization of water brings it about
that poor people in third world countries are finding it increasingly difficult
to obtain water. This is one bad effect of globalization. In Japan, where
water is so abundant, people may find this hard to believe. The film "Blue
Gold" provides a thorough answer to this issue.
This documentary film, produced in the United States, is based on the book
Water, the War of the Century, written by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke
and translated into Japanese by Suzuki Chikara. It was published by Shueisha
Shinsho. In addition to the authors themselves, a number of scholars and
activists, like Vandana Shiva, an Indian physicist and ecology activist,
and Oscar Olivera, a Bolivian worker leader of the movement "Water
War of Cochabamba," also appear in the film and express their ideas
about the geopolitics and power game concerning water resources.
"Blue Gold" designates water. Water, no less than gold, has become
a symbol of affluence. One of the characters in the film asserts that calling
oil "black gold," typical of an earlier age, has given way to
calling water "blue gold." Oil was the most important natural
resource in the 20th century and provoked many armed conflicts, while water
will likely become the key natural resource during the present century.
Let's take as an example the mineral water sold in plastic bottles. Visitors
to third world countries where the water supply is deficient can appreciate
the fact that mineral water is more expensive than Coca-Cola or even beer
in some places. The water supply, not only in developing countries, but
also in industrial ones, is gradually becoming privatized and this inevitably
raises its price. Moreover, in countries where desertification has advanced,
it is extremely expensive to build industrial plants for converting sea
water into fresh water. Thus, water has become a very lucrative commercial
The commercialization of water is a dramatic blow to the poor. In an African
country where the water supply was privatized, the price of water became
so expensive that people could not afford it. When a fire breaks out, there
is no water available to extinguish it, and children are sometimes burned
alive. Again, when multinationals got contracts for water supplies in Bolivia
by bribing the President of the Republic, the price of water soared. People
rioted violently and clashed with the military. The toll was high, but
in the end they were finally able to get rid of the invading companies.
This is not without relevance for us in Japan. We use mineral water as
a matter of course, but Japan also imports great quantities of "virtual
water." This means that, by importing agricultural products that require
great amounts of water to produce, we deprive foreign countries of their
virtual water. In order to produce goods to export, developing countries
have to extract large quantities of underground water and this leads to
desiccation of the land. In this way we rob them of their water.
The earth is considered a "Watery Planet," but only 0.8% of its
water is fresh water available for use. Meanwhile, water pollution has
become a serious problem and climate change has increased desertification
as well. Thus, if we want to ensure the continuation of life on earth during
the 21st century, we must stop this global commercialization of water.
As the authors of the book on which the film is based say, "Access to water is a human right."
[Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo]