The Business of Selling Water

tapped-out-water-bottles_16601_600x450In his acclaimed new novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, writer Mohsin Hamid describes a business venture that makes the unnamed protagonist  (referred to as “you” in the second person perspective narrative) wealthy: he boils tap water, and sells it as expensive, bottled mineral water.

Though Hamid wrote his book in the style of a “self-help book,” it is clearly a work of fiction. But the idea of an opportunist selling people boiled tap water that they could get themselves for free really isn’t so far fetched. After all, the bottled water industry generates revenue of more than $60 billion a year (as of 2008). And frequently, the water sold in bottles is of the same quality, or worse, than the water that comes out of a tap.

As author James G. Workman points out in his book Diminishing Resources: Water, bottled water has a greater retail value than milk, oil, gasoline, or many other commodities (many of which are made with water). Even as the global population grows and the need for water increases dramatically, more and more drinking water is being controlled by a handful of corporations who are ready to sell their supply to the highest bidder.

These issues were certainly on the mind of Hamid when he made a water scam central to his novel. He explained in an NPR interview:

The marketization of water, the sort of application of a kind of uber-capitalism that you see all over the world … you can see … most clearly in water because water used to be almost free. You could get water from a river, from a canal, from a well, from wherever, and now of course we’re running out of clean water in most of Asia and much of Africa and much of Latin America, and so people don’t have clean drinking water. We can live for a month without food, but we can’t last more than a couple of days without water, so people are selling water — both at the luxury level, where you have these high-end mineral waters, and also at the level of just poor people needing something to drink.

The fact is, water is a central component in just about every facet of human life. Not only is the human body 74% water, we need to drink water to stay alive, and it’s vital in the production of food and energy. So it isn’t surprising that some are seeking to profit off of this essential resource. And as the global water supply shrinks, the competition for that profit, and for the water itself, will only get more fierce.

To learn more about the role water plays in our lives, and how we are using it up at a dramatic rate, check out James G. Workman’s Diminishing Resources: Water (ISBN #978-1-59935-115-5) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. For more information about other resources that are quickly becoming scarce, such as oil, forests, and soil, check out the other titles in Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s Diminishing Resources series.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

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Published in: on March 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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