In Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke's book Blue Gold: the fight to stop the corporate theft of the world's water, the authors chart a bleak picture of our water supplies depleted, diverted and polluted at an unprecedented rate. They predict, as do many others, that water will become a major source of conflict in the coming 25 years.
Already grim examples emerge in Bolivia, where 17 people were killed in the riots that followed the privatisation and subsequent price hikes for water. Turkey has struck a deal with Israel and, in a unique twist in the normal "arms for oil" scenario, is now trading water for arms.
If it is true that water is to become so scarce as to provoke conflict, then we can be sure of one thing: in due course America will invade Wales. Britain's Prime Minister will support the action, claiming that Wales could launch a water-borne chemical attack on England, and that a crack legion of Welsh verruca sufferers could dabble their feet in reservoirs serving the Home Counties at 45 minutes' notice.
The Prime Minister will later insist that he was unaware that the claim was based on a single source who once saw a child in a swimming pool with a plaster on his foot. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary will announce that while some refugees are genuine, many are "aqua-migrants or H2OBogus". Radio talk shows will echo with incredulous cab drivers spluttering: "They come over here stealing our water" and "I know an asylum-seeker who married a British girl just so he could have a bath."
The Home Secretary will issue refugees with vouchers for drinks and disperse them all to the driest bit of British territory, namely the Rock of Gibraltar, where a load of tax dodgers and smugglers will accuse them of sponging off the state.
For some, water wars are already here. Plachimada, Kerala State, in the south of India, has become a symbol of the world's poor struggling for water rights. In 2000, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, bottlers of Coke, built a factory in the village and dug six boreholes to the underground aquifer. Shortly after the plant opened, villagers say their wells started to dry up and what water was left became undrinkable. Farmers lost crops and people had to rely on Coke bussing water in; or they had to walk long distances to a clean well. Peasants, mainly landless adivasi (indigenous) people, have held a 24-hour vigil outside the plant for over 660 days.
Many people want the company to do more than simply to cease extracting water on-site and tanker it in. They want the bottling plant shut down altogether. For them, Coke is the sharp end of globalisation's pointed stick. With access to clean water a matter of life and death, protesters question the power of multinationals. How can a company claim to be socially responsible when a shareholder in Atlanta has more say over the water drunk by a community thousands of miles away than that community does?
The president of the panchayat (local council), A Krishnan, believes that Coke is fighting against local democracy. The panchayat has the legal right to issue a licence for the company to operate. When the licence came up for renewal, the panchayat declined to issue a new licence. The company immediately decided to take legal action, claiming that the panchayat can legally issue a licence but not revoke it.
It was during the legal process in October 2003 that "Coke tried to purchase us", according to Krishnan. He alleges that Coke tried to bribe the local council, asking him to change the council's legal representative to one of the company's choosing and thereby lose the case. After offering to look after the local schools and health centres, he says, "their labour contractor, the chief labour contractor, he is the person on behalf of the company who told me . . . personally that whatever you want, other than this [schools and health centre], personally for you people, you tell us, we will meet it". For this, Krishnan said, he was told to "just change your advocate".
Coca-Cola has advised Krishnan: "If he is serious, to make his complaint official [by contacting the authorities or the company direct] so that we can investigate his allegations." And it points out that the company has "very strict policies on bribery and corruption" and is legally "bound by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act".
Readers may have seen last week's reports that the Indian government had confirmed earlier findings that the level of pesticides in Pepsi and Coke was found to be 30 times the levels permitted in America and Europe, though still legal in India. Indians who take bottles of Pepsi or Coke on picnics are probably doing it nowadays in order to keep the wasps away. Maybe the farmers can water their crops with it . . . and do the aphids at the same time.