Monday, November 17, 2014

Karen Piper's "The Price of Thirst"

Karen Piper is the author of Cartographic Fictions and Left in the Dust, which the Los Angeles Times has called an “eco-thriller” that every “tap-turning American” should read. A regular contributor to Places magazine, Piper is also a winner of Sierra’s Nature Writing Award and has published in numerous academic journals. She is professor of postcolonial studies in English and adjunct professor in geography at the University of Missouri.

Piper applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Price of Thirst: Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos, and reported the following:
I was surprised to find that the page 99 tests works! This page in my book describes the battle that many countries face when they attempt to preserve local values and laws about water in the face of transnational corporate “water grabs.” The example here is New Zealand, where the national government is starting to recognize that indigenous Maori values matter and should be respected and codified in law, which the government calls “biculturalism.” But the Maori do not support transnational water corporations, which are also moving into the country. According to two Maori water scholars, the Maori value transparency and a “unity of purpose” between the deliverers and those who receive water. Accordingly, transnational corporations are “ill-suited for any kind of leadership especially in the service industries” due to their lack of transparency, as well as a lack of care for those in need. Without this unity of purpose, they say, rebellion will occur “until the balance is restored.”

In the same way, my book argues that the corporate takeover of global water supplies will lead to hostilities around the world “until the balance is restored”—that good faith and unity of purpose are established between all participants. This is, in fact, what the title of my book means. On the one hand, “the price of thirst” describes the reality that water prices are going up around the world as more transnational business are gaining control over water and raising water prices. The poor are often left in the lurch, literally without clean water. But on the other hand, the title describes the true “price of thirst,” which is social chaos—the rebellion and hostility of those without water. Since the 1990s, there has been a global shift in water laws, which has led to nations treating water as a commodity. This is creating a new landless class of people who once lived by a river, but now cannot drink from it and so are forced to leave. Instead, they end up buying expensive and often dirty water from trucks in urban slums. Eventually, people without water will riot, and we are seeing this in many parts of the world today. It is no coincidence that there is greater political instability in countries with water scarcity or a large gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in water.

We will see more unrest until we understand, like the Maori, that we must restore balance and create trust between those who provide water and those who need it for survival, including plants and animals. The truth is that nature also riots when it does not get the water it needs; it rebels with mass extinctions that act like suicide bombers against the human race. But multinational corporations do not care about nature. They only care about their customer base ... and plants can’t pay.
Learn more about The Price of Thirst at the University of Minnesota Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue