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Private Water Public Concern: a case study in Chile

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Most Canadians take clean and affordable water for granted. Water access is not universal in Canada with rural and First Nation communities routinely having Drinking Water Advisories. For instance right now in Ontario there are 63 DWAs.

But we are connected to far off places like Chile through our food systems, faith values, and shared humanity on this precious blue planet. Did you know it takes 1,000 litres of water to grow 1 kilogram of avocado? It takes 5 times more water to grow avocados than tomatoes.

On October 25 of this year, Chileans voted on a referendum to change their constitution -- which enshrined water a tradable commodity that can be bought, sold, rented, mortgaged, and inherited according to this news article and video.

Chile’s current constitution was drafted by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, and was sent to voters at a time where political parties had been banned and the country was subject to heavy censorship. (from Aljazeera)

This 4 minute video gives an excellent overview of how Chile's water became privatized and who benefited.

A few highlights from the video:

  • Water in the Chile became privatized in 1981

  • Avocado plantations dominate the landscape and exports

  • Avocado industry as doubled in the past 10 years with 3/4 of the crop grown for export

  • Smaller producers have a hard time competing with large agro-business owners

  • Dams determine the location and amount of water with some riverbeds dry

Water is not a business, but a right for all. (Barbara Quiroz Garay, resident)

Above photos from the video.

The referendum votes are in.

Four-fifths of voters said they wanted the new charter to be drafted by a specially elected body of citizens – made up of half women and half men – over a mixed convention of legislators and citizens, highlighting general mistrust in Chile’s political class.

Let us raise a glass of water to the Chilean people who also affirm the human right to water and the sustainable use of this shared commons.

Photo above from the Aljazeera article.

By Paul Baines
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