Wem gehört das Wasser

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The documentation “Wem gehört das Wasser” telecasted by the WDR discusses the handling and distribution of the water resources on earth. The documentation considers how the company Nestlé operates in different countries. Nestlé was chosen due to its global dimensions and is standing representative for many other big companies. In the selected countries, either the access of the population on drinking water is limited for example in Africa or there is a negative influence on the nature. In both cases it is also considered if the auctions are legal or against the law.

Documentary: Wem gehört das Wasser. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Cp6J-i5I7E


The documentation focuses on, how the company got access on the springs and how this access is regulated and controlled. Also the different views on how water shall be distributed are described. On the one hand, there are different non-governmental organizations (NGOs). For these, the access to drinking water is a public law which means that every person has the right to get free water. On the other hands there are the big companies selling drinks. In their opinion, water is a normal grocery with a market value that can be sold. Another important problem which is mentioned is, that the available drinking water on earth becomes less every year due to the climatic change and contamination. The consequence of this fact is, that the access to drinking water is severely limited and the prices are growing in a lot of regions. In addition very often the companies producing mineral water are spending a lot of money to illustrate the bad quality of the tap water, although if they are using exact the same water without any modifications for their mineral water.


The documentation describes the different operations of Nestlé in detail with examples from three different countries. At first it gives an example from the United States, the second example take place in South Africa and the last one in Brasilia.


In the United States Nestlé has got the control about a spring in a very waterless region. In this region, the available water becomes less every year alone through natural conditions. To get the permission to take water from the spring, Nestlé needed an expert’s report. Whereas in the first draft of this report some points are proving a heavy negative environmental impact due to the falling groundwater, in the final version, all these impacts has been removed. This change was possible because the owner of the area with the spring had been significantly involved in the creation of the report and does not want to miss the money he get from Nestlé. So both sides have had the interest, that Nestlé gets the permission to build a factory over the spring because the owner gets about 200.000 Euro leasing payment and Nestlé can make a turnover of over 150 Million Euro each year. The concerned communes and persons has had no possibilities to do something against this deception because they has not the capital needed for a lawsuit. What the authors of the documentation want to show with this example is, that also in a well-developed country like the United States it is possible to break existing laws with only a very little risk to be convicted finally.


Much more worse is the situation in the second example the documentation gives. Representative for most countries in Africa they choose South Africa. Also if water is a human right there by law, huge parts of the population do not have access on drinking water. Most often these persons drink polluted water. One responsible organization is the World Bank, which demands the privatization of the water supply as a trade-off for a financial credit. The World Bank do so because a stable supply of water is elementary for an economic growth. The disadvantage is, that in most cases not the population has benefits but the industry, and big companies like Nestlé are becoming access on the few existing springs with drinking water. The industry most often contaminates the water with the result, that nearly all the surface water and groundwater in higher layers is not drinkable. The consequence is, that the only possible way to get drinking water is to buy it in the supermarket. The problem is, that this is too expensive for huge part of the population. This causes that these persons are drinking the contaminated water with the result of illness and poisoning.


The last example in the documentation stays in Brasilia, where Nestlé also got control over different springs. The important fact is, that they use therefore a gap in the law because the privatization of water is normally not allowed in Brasilia. The gap allows them to declare the water as mineral and not as water so that it is not a privatization of drinking water. Indeed, Nestlé lost a few processes because they process the water to change the mineralization and cause pollution, but all the processes have been finished with an arrangement and the payment of a comparatively little fine in comparison to the turnover Nestlé has made.
At last, there is shown, how the big companies are working against activists and NGOs, which want to help the concerned population and denunciate the practices of the companies. As an example they order “agents” joining the groups and transfer data containing future actions and local contact persons to the companies. The process, Nestlé lost in this case, but the fine was that less, that is does not affect such approaches in the future.

The creators of the documentation focus very much on the law of nations, the local laws and their application and control. In addition they ask the question, how fair the behavior of the companies towards the local populations is. The problem is, that both sides try to interpret the existing laws in the way it fits best to their argumentation. Also the view on justice is very different. Whereas for the companies it as fair, that they can sell the water because they pay for the rights to produce it and the population has neither the technology nor the money to get the drinking water from the deep ground layers without their intervention, the population and activists want it for nearly free. A possible compromise could be, that the companies are allowed to sell the water, but only with little profit, so that at least a majority of the person can achieve it. The problem is, that in the concerned countries there is a very high unemployment rate and no real social systems, so that these persons are not able to buy the water also if it is very cheap. The most important things are, that the laws become more precisely and that the companies act more social and not with the aim to earn as much money as possible. The implementation of such things could be rewarded with awards which are given from independent NGOs to the companies. Also if these awards would not be very useful in the poor countries, they can give the companies an advantage in the western world, where such things become more and more important. The big dilemma is, that, if you neglect the impacts on nature and focus on the persons, there is nearly no difference if the companies control the springs and sell the water or not. If the companies are not doing it, there were only negative consequences for the local economy but the persons would not have more water, because they have not the possibilities to get it technically. The only solution would be, if the water supply would be built from donations and development aids but the money from these sources is not enough for an area-wide implementation.

Michael G.

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