Sierra Club Productions
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Is water part of a shared "commons," a human right for all people? Or is it a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded in a global marketplace? "Thirst" tells the stories of communities in Bolivia, India, and the United States that are asking these fundamental questions.
Over a billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Each year, millions of children die of diseases caused by unsafe water. The numbers are increasing.
These facts drive a debate in the opening scenes of “Thirst” at the 2003 Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan. Politicians, international bankers, and corporate executives gather to decide who will control global fresh water supplies. Their consensus for large dams and privatized, corporate water systems is challenged by experts and activists who assert that water is a human right, not a commodity to be traded on the open market.
Oscar Olivera, a community leader from Bolivia, startles a panel of CEOs with his words, “Many of the companies represented here have stained the water with the blood of our compatriots.” The film briefly shifts to Bolivia where Olivera leads a full-scale insurrection against a water privatization contract with the US-based Bechtel Corporation. Tens of thousands of people battle police and the army to protect their water rights. After a sharpshooter kills 17-year-old Victor Hugo Daza, the government is forced to expel one of the world’s most powerful corporations.
The central story in "Thirst" takes place in Stockton, California. Mayor Gary Podesto proposes to give control of the water system to a consortium of global water corporations. He is surprised by the reaction as Stockton residents create a new grassroots coalition to demand a say in the decision. They are worried about price hikes, water quality, and layoffs of public employees, who tend to be women or people of color. African American water plant supervisor Michael McDonald sees democracy itself at stake in this battle.
In India, a grassroots movement for water conservation has rejuvenated rivers, literally changing the desert landscape. Led by Rajendra Singh, who locals call "a modern day Gandhi," the movement opposes government efforts to sell water sources to companies like Coke and Pepsi. Singh journeys across India to organize resistance, finding millions eager to join his crusade.
The water activists from Bolivia, Stockton and India all meet at the World Water Forum in Kyoto as part of a new movement against global water privatization. As the Forum reaches it final day, no one anticipates the explosive outcome.
Find out more:
More about the film and updates
More about the Sierra Club's work on corporate water privatization.
For teachers and discussion leaders: The Thirst study guide, with background information, discussion questions, activities, and contacts for more information and resources. (1.5mb PDF)