Establishing Equitable Water Distribution in Chile

our new Constitution’s great task

By Gloria Alvrarado (El Mostrador)

HAVANA TIMES – Every so often, it’s good to recall the reasons why we’re drafting a new Constitution in Chile. One important motive is to enact concrete solutions for a series of socio-environmental demands from the different provinces, demands that for a long time haven’t been heard or resolved.

One of the priorities is the urgent need to guarantee the human right to water, and to balance access to this natural common good among all the beings that depend on it. The most appropriate way of arriving at a fair distribution of water is by approving the norms recommended in the Constitutional Convention Environmental Commission’s second report.

This second report of the Commission tackles issues like human and nature’s right to water; the water, land and territorial statute; food sovereignty and how to safeguard the ancestral and farming seeds; the Antarctic statute of glaciers, the cryosphere [frozen water part of the Earth], wetlands and marine territories; the statue of energy and minerals; the statute of the atmosphere, space, air and the skies; sustainable development, good living and the economic model; the ecological and social function of property; public economic order and fiscal policy; and the right to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.

This report, which summarizes the Commission’s theme areas B, C, and D, contains essential points that could lead to solutions for the country’s social, economic, and environmental issues. Together with other norms approved in this Convention, it could serve to protect and guarantee the population’s basic rights.

Seven proposals for Norms were approved by the Environmental Commission on Human and Nature’s Right to water and the Constitutional water statute. This week, they were combined into one proposal, with language that addresses the principal demands expressed for years by the organizations in the outer territories, in town halls, gatherings, and in hundreds of public hearings where intellectuals, specialists trade union leaders and organizations of civil society participated.

This proposal establishes that the Chilean waters, in all states, forms and origins, constitutes an essential component for the conservation of diverse forms of life, the exercise of human rights, and those of nature. The norm also establishes that the government has the duty of guaranteeing access to water in sufficient quantity and quality for human consumption and sanitation.

This marks a precedent with respect to the current situation faced by nearly two hundred communities all over the country, that have seen their wells, rivers and tributaries dry up, and find themselves with decreed water shortages. Or the more than 400,000 people who get their water from tanker trucks; or the over 27,000 children in the country’s rural schools, who don’t have a potable water supply because the large-scale water hoarders in Chile haven’t allowed a better distribution, or let water be prioritized for human consumption and sanitation.

With regard to balancing the different uses, the norm indicates that water is to be earmarked first and foremost for social and ecological use. This includes access to water for human consumption, sanitation, ecological balance, food sovereignty and the traditional uses of the native peoples. The norm also indicates that, once these priorities for use have been satisfied, the productive needs can be served, according to what the government institutions have established.

Some will say that these are the reasons the Reform to the Water Code was approved this year. However, we should note that this reform has come 11 years too late. Now, given the evidence and severity of the water crisis the country faces, substantive changes are urgently needed to break the paradigm of private water ownership, which impedes access to this essential common good by our fellow citizens who need it to survive.

One percent of the 29,001 title holders who have inscribed rights to water consumption could absorb 79.02% of the total volume of water available in Chile, which in turn represents only 4.3% of the existing water property rights, according to a study done by researchers at the University of the America’s (UDLA) Center for Land Production. So – Is water well distributed in Chile? Who does the current system of water distribution really benefit? Definitely not the communities, rural schools, or the 7.9 million people who live in zones where a water shortage has been declared.

A few years ago, there was an attempt in the Senate to establish in our legal code the human right to water. The initiative was unsuccessful due to the high quorums mandated in the current Constitution for enacting reforms of this type.  Now, those of us who recognize and want to guarantee this fundamental right and establish its supreme precedence for people and for food sovereignty, see this as one of the most important tasks of the ongoing Constitutional Convention.

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