Globalisation has become the catchword of our times; we eat Indian food, drink Italian wine, and drive in Japanese cars. We use computers produced in China which most likely run on the American operating system, with their spare parts perhaps made in Korea. At the beginning of the 21st century, this is our reality, and as some argue, all this has become possible due to globalisation.
Yet all over the world the uneasiness is growing as to whether globalisation is good for us, or whether it merely adds to the growing divide between the industrialised and the developing countries.
According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), fifty-one of the world’s top 100 economies are corporations; yet, ninety-nine of the 100 largest transnational corporations are from the industrialised countries. Thus, some argue globalisation instead of bridging the global divide only deepens it further; big multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and McDonalds only add to the world’s poverty and inequality, they maintain.
The controversy over globalisation extends to discussions on water resources control, especially to how or if large-scale trading of freshwater across borders should be encouraged. For indeed, if water is to become the precious commodity of the 21st century, many fear that the UN’s millennial goal of halving the number of people without clean water supplies by the year 2015 will not be met. They argue that big multinational corporations’ interests are foremost in maximizing their profits. Thus, they forecast, the prices for freshwater will rise, leaving those without means with no access to safe drinking water.
As adversaries however maintain, letting private or public-private companies take responsibility for some aspects of water distribution or management may help millions of poor people by giving them access to freshwater. They point out that in the next decades, significant infrastructure investments will be needed, and since many governments are not prepared to pay for those investments, the public-private ownership of water supplies is to be preferred.
The sheer water consumption statistics show the acuteness of the problem; since 1900 our use of water has increased a six fold – twice that of global population growth in the same period. People in rich countries use 10 times more water than those in poor ones. With the continuing high population growth in the world and thus the demand for freshwater, global political solutions, as well as scientific ones, need to be found to avert water wars and global crisis.
In the past decade the world economy has gone through some major changes, resulting in the creation of the global market. With the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994, the world trade was liberalised through international agreements and today it has become easier than ever to export and import goods to or from almost anywhere in the world.
Within the same space of time we have seen the arrival of the internet to the wider public, and with it, the global access to information and knowledge has become much easier and faster. As Marshall McLuhan foresaw it in 1960s, the world has become “the global village” due to the electronic communication uniting the world.
Although globalisation is primarily seen as an economic phenomenon, the cross-border social and cultural exchange should not be played down as part of the same process. Global entertainment, fast food, and fashion are spreading fast into the furthest regions of the world. Some believe that cultural globalisation is synonymous with Americanization, for indeed American cultural influence – music, films, and fast food – is undeniably all-pervasive.
The question is whether local and traditional communities can exist alongside with global culture. Or, as some fear, the global culture will unintentionally bring about the end of cultural diversity, paving the way for the triumph of multinational corporations, such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola.
Globalisation and Poverty
In July 2005, 225,000 protesters met in Edinburgh (Scotland) prior to the G8 summit. In a world where poverty kills 30,000 people every day, they appealed to the leaders of the eight richest nations to “Make Poverty History”. Such objectives, some might say, sound vague and indistinct. For is there a link between poverty and global market economy? Some say no. Others claim that it is mostly multi-national corporations from the industrialized countries which benefit from globalisation at the expense of the developing countries which provide cheapest work force.
If poverty indeed is man-made, and it is the price we have to pay for globalisation, an apt question might be asked: Is there any alternative to globalisation?
It seems that the issue at stake here is how we manage globalisation. For as Michael Jacobs writes in The Guardian (Nov, 2001): “to oppose globalisation is to deny people in poorer countries the benefit of knowledge, technological advance, cultural diversity and travel which we in the rich world enjoy.”
Instead of trying to wind back the time, the opponents of globalisation should accept it, goes the argument. For if managed well and fairly, globalisation can lift millions out of poverty. To ensure that, local government and institutions should be strengthened, say opponents of globalisation, and global institutions, such as for instance WTO, weakened.
Water Resources Control
One of the perennial worries in the discussion on globalisation is the question of water resources control. As more and more governments around the world are backing away from their responsibilities to maintain safe water supplies for their citizens, public-private water projects become ever more popular. With the privatization of municipal and regional water services, including sewage and water delivery, many fear that the prices for water services will soar. They foresee that big transnational water corporations will acquire control of dams and waterways, not to mention ground water resources. Indeed, they argue, already today big multinational corporations exploit scarce ground water resources in countries such as India and Philippines, only to increase their sales of bottled water in those same areas.
If water will become a commodity, many fear that only those with means will be able to afford it. They claim that free access to clean water is a human right that we should defend.