“Blue gold”: capitalization of nature economy

Water has become “blue gold” because of its increasing scarcity. However, scarcity is not a natural fatality, but it is socially constructed. Water grabbing is based on a model of economic development characterized by the exploitation of natural resources as form of capitalization. Increasing demand of water facilitates the transition from privatization of water management and distribution, to resource grabbing and appropriation for speculative aims. The introduction of a commons, naturally available and cheap, into a monetary chain of value can have a devastating impact on the communities whose survival is dependent upon the free access to water.

Water grabbing, commons and human rights

The Water Grabbing refers to the wide variety of phenomena characterized by the removal of water resources as a commons, i.e. openly available for everyone and freely enjoyable, and the alienation of its control from people and communities to the benefit of a private or public actor driven by speculative purposes.

Water grabbing therefore violates the human, economic, social and cultural rights of individuals and communities whose subsistence depends upon the access to water as a commons, especially where it does not recognize the peoples’ right to express their free, prior and informed consent to participate in water management.

Water Grabbing, thus, is a threat to democracy, participation and accountability, since it takes the control of the resource away from the authority of legislative bodies and national constitutions, and fosters international financial speculation.

 Forms of water grabbing

Phenomena linked to water grabbing are extremely various and numerous, including:

  • Unsustainable water-consuming farming
    The reallocation of water necessary to local farming, that would guarantees the sustenance and food sovereignty of residents, to benefit irrigation for export-oriented farming, characterized by an unsustainable water consumption with respect to the surrounding ecosystem (sugarcanes, biofuel crops, etc). From this point of view, many cases of land grabbing actually hide water grabbing phenomena.
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  • Mining and water contamination
    Unsustainable exploitation of water for mining projects (including the practice of fracking for the extraction of shale gases)
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  • Privatization of services and ecosystems management
    The transformation of services and systems for water and ecosystems management (including river basins, big lakes, aqueducts, distribution and purification plants, etc) based on a business-oriented and not-participatory model.
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  • Big dams
    The barrage of rivers and hijacking of water necessary to sustain local populations into basins supplying big dams, which are environmentally unsustainable and aimed at the production and commercialization of electrical power.
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  • Militarization of water
    Water wars refer to the increasing relevance of water for strategic military or law enforcement purposes. Given the soaring value of water and the prospects of forthcoming scarcity, the access to water for human survival is no longer taken for granted, and thus deserves to be enforced, or “protected”, by all the necessary means, including the use of force.
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Water crisis, systemic crisis
Water grabbing thus represents one of the most widespread and threatening processes of appropriation, privatization and commercialization of the commons and natural resources. It is aggravated by the expansion of neoliberal-oriented policies of free trade, aimed at strengthening the processes of commodification of nature, deregulation of investments and international trade, including the EU-ACP Economic Partnership Agreements, TTIP, WTO rules, European Water Blueprint, and the increasing interference of private actors in the policies of international aid and development.Water grabbing therefore dramatically contributes to the global water crisis: 700 millions people in 43 countries are still living below the threshold water-stress, of 1.700 metres cubes per person[1], and the figure could reach 2/3 of mankind by 2025[2]. Upstream, an increase in demography and water consumption, plus the effects of climate change; downstream, aggravated conflicting claims for the access to natural resources; all these phenomena risk to merge into a global multiple crisis which is likely to threaten the very survival of the human race. Campaigning against water grabbing is part of this fight.

[1]    UNDP (2006), Human Development report, 2006-2014, UNDP

[2]    UN-Water, FAO (2007), Coping with water scarcity. Challenge of the twenty-first century.


Dakar African Social Forum 2014 declaration against water and land grabbing: Dakar Declaration