The water conflicts portrayed in Thirst have continued and intensified since the end of filming in September, 2003.
In Stockton, the Citizens Coalition, Sierra Club, and League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit to stop the privatization of the city’s water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities, arguing that under California’s Environmental Quality Act the city should have completed an environmental impact statement before approving the contract. In an extraordinary ruling, Superior Court Judge Robert McNatt threw out the privatization, writing that approval of the contract was “an abuse of discretion by the City Council.”
The City appealed the ruling and also asked Judge McNatt to order a new trial based on a little-used law on private sector participation in government operations.
The Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton have appealed that ruling and now both appeals are pending. In the meantime, water rates have increased, OMI/Thames continues to control the city’s water system, and construction of new water facilities is on hold pending the outcome of the legal battle.
Michael McDonald is now maintenance supervisor at Stockton’s Department of Public Works.
Mayor Gary Podesto is running for State Senate as a Republican. He supported the state initiative to recall former Governor Gray Davis with current Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger has been a major fundraiser for Podesto. The race to unseat incumbent Democrat, Michael Machado, will be the most expensive state legislative race in American history.
The Citizens Coalition is now working on a variety of other initiatives, including efforts to restrict Stockton’s sprawl.
In the United States, multinational water companies continue to campaign for new contracts, but they have been put on the defensive by the collapse of contracts in Atlanta and the Island of Puerto Rico. After a long battle, New Orleans finally decided to scrap privatization plans. Local groups in Lexington, Kentucky, Indianapolis, Indiana, Felton and Montara, California, and other cities are trying to take back their water from private companies.
Corporate water industry publications have stated that public opposition has discouraged some new contracts and reduced profitability.
In Bolivia, Oscar Olivera has been spearheading an effort to build a new community-based water utility along the lines of successful cooperatives and democratic utility structures used in other cities in South America. He is a leader of the new South and Central American anti-privatization coalition, Red Vida, and he has completed a book, “Cochabamba: Water Rebellion in Bolivia,” which will be available in English in November, 2004 from South End Press.
Rebellions against privatization in Bolivia continued, toppling the government in 2003. The U.S. has increased military aid to the Bolivian Army.
After the contract was cancelled, Bechtel filed a claim against the Bolivian government, demanding $25 million in lost profits. The suit is pending in an international arbitration court. Under restricted bidding procedures that The New York Times called “unacceptable,” the company won the contract for water infrastructure in post-war Iraq. The newspaper editorialized; “The award of a contract worth up to $680 million to the Bechtel Group of San Francisco in a competition limited to a handful of American companies can only add to the impression that the United States seeks to profit from the war it waged….” (4/19/03)
In India, Rajendra Singh completed his year-and-a-half long yatra (national march) against privatization and for water conservation in the spring of 2004. Hundreds of thousands of people joined his marches and heard him speak across India. Shortly after the yatra ended, the right-wing government of India held new elections. To the surprise of pollsters and pundits, the incumbents were thrown out of office by a wide margin. Exit polls indicated that growing opposition to privatization was a major motivation for voters.
The new Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, of the Congress Party, has promised to slow privatization of state-run companies and natural resources.
Rajendra Singh continues his work in Rajasthan, and he continues to travel in India and abroad urging support for rainwater harvesting, water conservation, and water as a human right.
John Briscoe continues to be Senior Water Advisor for the World Bank, and has moved his base of operations from Washington, D.C. to New Delhi. Since his arrival in India, World Bank funding of water projects in India, including controversial dams and privatization, has tripled.
Thirst had its US premiere at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, April, 2004, and its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival in Toronto, April, 2004.
The Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the Council of Canadians are using “Thirst” in their work to spark debate and discussion of water privatization. This campaign is being coordinated with Working Films, which develops high-impact outreach campaigns for documentaries on social issues.
— Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman
June, 2004, Berkeley, California
Find links and further reading about the people and organizations of “Thirst” in Resources ».