The Water Issue: Intersections between Water and Social Justice


Date published: Wed, 26 April 23

Issues surrounding climate are more linked to social justice than you might think. To call for social justice is to advocate for equitable economic, social, and political opportunity. One vital and overlooked social justice issue is water. Water in all of its forms has been utilized to marginalize populations around the world. Restriction of water, international borders over rivers, lack of access to clean drinking water, and climate disasters such as flooding are all elements that we will be sharing perspectives on. 

Capitalism and Water 

In the US, lack of clean drinking water is directly tied to racial and class proportions. In Flint, Michigan, the majorly Black and working class city, was without clean water supply for years since 2014. Families were drinking water with lead, and were forced to purchase bottled water. No one has been held accountable for the poisoning of Flint’s people. Even today, many of Flint’s residents are afraid to drink water from the city

With the capitalist nature of the US, income inequality is a norm, a percentage that increases every year. In the past three decades, income inequality in the US has increased by 20%. The working class American is forced to adhere to drought regulations and alerts that demand individuals to only use water if necessary, yet wealthy Americans and corporations are able to use as much water as they want. In California, a state plagued by an endless drought, corporations, banks, oil, gas, and agriculture corporations use water without proper regulation. Water companies such as Nestle, Pure Life, Aquafina, Dasani, all source water from California in dozens of water bottling facilities. The bottled water industry in the US produces 10 billion gallons of water with revenues up to $12 billion. Corporations not only can use how much water they want, but they are able to dump waste in water reservoirs without consequences because “they own the means of production.”  

“Leaving a natural resource like water in the hands of the private sector makes it a commodity item vulnerable to the free market. Poor cities are most damaged by private utilities providers because without the resources to fund their services, companies are less inclined to provide them with the proper infrastructure and access to water.” 

– Erika Escamilla, Leaders Igniting Transformation

Cities with populations who are poorer are subject to corporations dumping waste in water reservoirs. What happened in Flint repeats itself in the US, and around the world. With the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, a corporation’s intentional negligence led to the poisoning of water for days, with little to no accountability. 

Fracking is another process that contaminates water and the earth through the migration of gas and frack fluid.Many of the areas where fracking occurs are Indigenous reservations and sovereign lands. In Canada, fracking has been at the site of major protests by First Nations. Not only does fracking destroy the underground ecosystem, it can contaminate water supplies. In order to even create pipelines and infrastructure for fracking, roads built for the fracking industry cut across streams, wetlands, and other natural environments, disrupting the fragile ecosystems, fish, wildlife, water flows. Policy Alternatives states in a brief, “Only when all activities associated with the gas-drilling and fracking process are considered together can the cumulative impacts of natural gas industry operations be understood and pro- active action be taken to reduce threats to critically important water resources.” 

Climate Change

In South Asia, approximately 134 million people don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water. Because of climate change, global warming, and global pollution, freshwater sources are at high risk. The coastal lowlands of many South Asian countries are projected to be uninhabitable in the recent future. In Bangladesh, 70 million people are living under a high risk of climate change

With climate change comes climate disaster, such as the 2022 floods in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. These floods affected millions of people – homes were destroyed, access to clean water was nonexistent, and families were displaced from their homes. 

In Nigeria, the government declared a water emergency in 2012, and started inefficiently supplying rationed water to communities, leading people of marginalized ethnic groups to seek clean drinking water. This created a new market for water in Nigeria; however, this privatization of water has caused vulnerable groups in Nigeria, such as the Ogoni ethnic group, to be dispossessed

In Palestine, apartheid has created a system where Palestinians don’t receive the same water supply as Israelis. In the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian village Nabi Saleh receives running water for only 12 hours a week. In the Israeli settlement of Halamish, right above Nabi Saleh, water is constant, provided 24 hours a day. Nabi Saleh is constantly attacked by Israelis, who raid homes, kill civilians, and destroy water tanks

Since 1967, Israel has instituted water-sharing agreements that force Palestinians to have a dependence on Israel for water. Israel takes the natural water supply from the Jordan River and siphons it to the Israelis. In Gaza, the UN has predicted that the area could be uninhabitable in the near future due to the water crisis


Water, then, is at the site of a variety of social justice issues. In our next article, we will be outlining ways you can support and advocate for water social justice.