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Water Grabs Accompany Huge Land Grabs

June 8, 2011
Polaris Institute

The Oakland Institute's Report released today on massive land grabs in Africa by large scale investors also reveals details of significant water grabs.

In Sierra Leone, for example, a Swiss oil and gas company, Addax and Oryx (AOG) which is chaired by Swiss billionaire Jean Claude Gandur, has secured control over 20,000 hectares of land to produce sugarcane for ethanol exports to the European Union.

Since sugarcane production requires a great deal of freshwater, AOG struck a sweetheart deal for rights to withdraw virtually unlimited volumes of freshwater from the Rokel River for their mass irrigation schemes. As a result, studies show there is now a severe risk to the livelihood of many thousands of people in the Sierra Leone river estuary.

In Mali, which has a large land base but only 5 percent of which is arable, the country's Investment Promotion Agency (API) has authority over fertile lands in the inland delta of the Niger River. According to the API, which is financially supported by the World Bank and USAID, 2.5 million hectares of Mali's most arable land its most precious water sources have been made "available" and on "offer" to large scale investors.

Moreover, the Mali government will construct one of the largest canals in Africa (40 kms) to provide up to 11 cu. meters of water per day for mass irrigation for intensive agriculture projects. Consequently, companies like Libyan based Malybia, which has secured control over 100,000 hectares in Niger dela region with no limits on water withdrawals. Meanwhile, millions of people living downstream are facing serious water shortages.

Finally, it should be noted that these are only two examples. Nor is this pattern of water-related land grabs only occurring in Africa and other parts on the South. They also take place in the North as well. A prime contemporary example from my own country Canada, concerns the Alberta oil sands which requires massive volumes of freshwater in the production of crude oil for export to the US.

For these purposes, the long term land leases granted to the big oil company's operating in the Alberta tar sands are also allowed direct access to two-thirds of all the water in the Athabasca River system. As a result, water flows have been substantially depleted while volumes of water are contaminated, causing serious harm to the health of wildlife and communities of people downstream.

--Statement by Tony Clarke, director of the Polaris Institute Canada, member of the Oakland Institute board, and co-author of the international bestseller, BLUE GOLD: The Corporate Theft of the World's Water.