When drought and looting intersect: the water crisis in Chile is catastrophic


An unavoidable issue in the two counter-summits was the problem of water and the water crisis facing the country. It is a conflict where, for experts and environmentalists, the drought and the looting of this vital resource are crossed. The seriousness of the problem would be the result not only of the lack of rainfall due to climate change, but also of the legislation that has privatized Chile's water.

Historical water deficit in Chile

Drought conditions have been dragging in the South American nation for several years, however, this 2019 has been especially hard. As noted by the Chilean Meteorological Directorate in its latest Drought Monitoring, "the sharp deficit in rainfall, which has been observed throughout the year, makes a change in the dominant dry condition that the country has suffered very difficult."
The shortage in the cities of La Serena, Valparaiso and Balmaceda exceeded 100%, realizing that in these places the accumulated rainfall was 0 mm. In the case of the city of Santiago, only 82 mm of rainfall have fallen so far this year, representing a 76% deficit according to the same Meteorological Directorate. In Valparaiso, meanwhile, 83 mm have fallen while the "normal to date" is 412 mm.

                    Photo: Gentleness Modatima

Drought in Cabildo, Chile

To this catastrophic panorama is added a national regulation that keeps the sources of the vital element privatized, since the approval of the Water Code during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

As explained to Sputnik Lucio Cuenca of the Observatory of Environmental Conflicts OLCA, and panelist at the Summit of the Peoples "this code, although it considers the waters as a social good, that is, as a national good for public use, at the same time he considers it as an economic asset, separates the ownership of water from the domain of the land and transfers the power to the State that it is he who grants the rights of use of water to private individuals free of charge and in perpetuity, giving rise to the market for waters, or rather to the water business. "

Not Alto Maipo

This is particularly serious, according to Sputnik Pablo Melo, of the Non-Maipo Citizen Coordinator, who opposes the hydroelectric megaproject with which the transnational AES Gener intends to intervene the Maipo Valley, which has historically been a vital source of drinking water and energy for the Central Zone of the country.
For Melo, who presented at the Summit for Climate Action, the Alto Maipo project, which would be integrated into a network of hydroelectric plants in the past and that uses natural tributaries, will inevitably affect the sector of the Maipo drawer, basin where they find the reserves of drinking water that supply 80% of the capital of Chile.

"We believe that the Alto Maipo Project would destroy the entire Maipo river basin, Santiago's main drinking water supplier, by seriously compromising all tributaries, estuaries and riverbeds. We are also convinced that this project endangers a series of activities productive that are related to the waters of the river. We speak of the extraction of aggregates, of the commerce, of the tourism, the agriculture and the small cattle ranch ".

AES Gener acquired the waters of several estuaries and crystalline rivers of the Maipo drawer, which constitute the natural reserves of clean water for the capital of Chile, under the Water Code.

As Rodrigo Mundaca, leader of the Earth's Water Defense and Environmental Protection Movement (Modatima) explains to Sputnik, this regulation often translates into that "the private sector makes use of the water in such a way that it ends up supplying the rest of the population. "

This is well known to the inhabitants of the Laguna de Aculeo, 85 kilometers from Santiago, which has seen its more than 40,000 million liters of water disappear mainly due to its extraction for irrigation, and where only three farmers have the domain of 80% of the waters of the area, and that are cultivators of watermelons, pumpkins, cherry trees, nuts and citrus fruits.

The first commune of Chile without water

                    Photo: Gentleness Modatima

Graffiti on Cabildo Street

A dramatic case is the province of Petorca, where water scarcity is becoming an alert in Chile, and where the town of Cabildo could become the first commune of the national territory to reach the total drought.
This area is recognized for its avocado production, and has experienced explosive growth in this type of plantation, with a negative effect on the environment.
"The avocado is a fruit tree that demands huge amounts of water, between 150 to 200 liters per tree per day, 500 trees enter a hectare of crop, which if you multiply it gives you 100,000 cubic meters of water under irrigation, which is equivalent to to the daily water consumption of a thousand people, "explains Mundaca.

"Our legislation does not establish the priority of water use, it is possible to overcome the mining use for human consumption or that of an ecosystem. The human right to water is not ensured, as if it is ensured by international regulations," says Cuenca.

For Mundaca, the problem in Petorca is also a product of the concentration of the ownership of resources in businessmen and even former government officials, which shows a lack of control and less good political will to do so.

                    Photo: Gentleness Modatima

Drinking water truck in Cabildo

"Examples are that of former Interior Minister of the Government of Michelle Bachelet, Edmundo Perez Yoma, or former Deputy Eduardo Cerda, both belonging to the Christian Democracy, who benefited from the development of agribusiness linked to citrus and avocado trees. Then there are problems of usurpation, use of state subsidies and poor supervision. "

The overexploitation of water in the Province of Petorca, together with the lack of control and political will that generates a change, condemn this area. For Rodrigo Mundaca, "everyone knows that the province of Petorca is the epicenter of the violation of Human Law regarding access to water."

Water: an urgent reform

                    Photo: Gentleness Modatima

Lands affected by drought in Cabildo, Chile

While there is no reform to current regulations, the water crisis will only deepen throughout the country. For Mundaca, the change in these regulations is urgent and reiterates that "in Chile there is no drought but looting, Chile is the only country in the world that has privatized its water sources since the dictatorship."

Another phenomenon that aggravates the above and that must be regulated, for Cuenca, is that "the State of Chile has abandoned its role as manager and has made an over-granting of water rights free of charge without knowing the availability status of the basins, therefore, are in places in Chile where there are more water rights granted, than available water, rights that are also traded on the market. "

To change this situation, a reform to the Water Code is not enough. "The only way to solve this problem is to make a reform of the Political Constitution, repealing article 19 number 24, which enshrines private property," says Mundaca.
For its part, Cuenca considers that in Chile there are at least three economic sectors that are holding back any possibility of transformation that might touch their interests. "The Mining Council that represents the large transnational extractivists, hydroelectric plants, and the agricultural export sector. They are the ones that concentrate the majority of these property rights, which are preventing the return to water as a common right, deprivatization of the system, and that until today there is no political will to modify, even considering the mobilizations of these last weeks ".
In the closure and conclusions of both summits the issue of water was a priority, as was the case for the thousands of Chileans who have taken to the streets to ask for a new social pact and a new Constitution. But especially for those who live outside Santiago.

"The most meaningful request in the regions is the recovery of water, it is to make water a common good, and its access a human right," concludes Mundaca.

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