Water Struggle in Chile

Chile is going through a water struggle with the advent of recent natural calamities namely the drought and floods this year. Flash floods in the Andes caused contamination of Santiago’s water supplies as the river Maipo was muddied leading to the closure of water processing plants, while the drought in Coquimbo Region has caused rural exodus and conflicts between landowners.

However, natural disasters are not the only cause of the struggle, there are structural problems in the policies that have been enacted for exploitation of natural resources. Privatization is a phenomenon that is usually perceived in a positive context as it is suppose to increase efficiency through competition and reduced cost structure along with long term perspective for generating  profits.   However in the case of Chile, the privatization of water management in 1981 has exacerbated the current water crises.

Early this year, around 100 environmental, social and indigenous organizations protested in Santiago demanding that the state regain control over the management of water. The protestors are lobbying for the annulment of the water code that was adopted by the 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, which privatized water property rights by granting the state the right to grant water use rights to companies free of charge and in perpetuity. The code entails water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without accounting for preferences of local communities.

Another sore point is the bilateral mining treaty signed by Chile and Argentina in 1997 which allows foreign mining corporations infinite usage of water and energy as per requirements of their operations. The bi-national mining treaty hands over 4,000 kilometers of (Andes) mountains to transnational corporations. In Latin America, the biggest concentrations of freshwater are in the Andes mountains that host 80 percent of Chile’s indigenous communities.

This protest highlights the plight faced by indigenous communities and the urgency to address these issues from a policy perspective to avoid national crises.

For more information please visit: http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/04/mining-and-logging-companies-leaving-chile-without-water/

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