The heavy price of Santiago’s privatised water

Source: Daniel Gallagher, The Guardian, September 15, 2016

When it comes to water, Chile is failing its citizens. In Santiago, the nation’s capital, millions of people are regularly left without running water for days at a time and experts are warning of water scarcity to come across the country as temperatures rise and glaciers retreat. … A recent protest saw at least 2,000 people take to the capital’s streets to demand the repeal of laws that privatised Chile’s water supply. At the heart of the protest and others like it in recent years lies frustration that the privatisation of water has kept prices unnecessarily high, delivered poor service and done little to address concerns over insufficient supply in the future. … The process of water privatisation in Chile which began in 1981 under General Pinochet established a model for water management that strengthened private water rights, adopted a market-based allocation system and reduced state oversight. That model became emblematic of neoliberal reforms heavily promoted by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. These reforms fundamentally changed the way water is valued and managed globally. No longer a mere necessity for human survival, water has become an object of international financial speculation and experts predict that “blue gold” will soon become the most important physical commodity worldwide, dwarfing oil and precious metals. … But there are signs of a government change of heart, perhaps spurred by public sentiment: a new poll suggests that 74% of Chileans support a return to the public ownership of water. The Chilean government’s special committee on water resources recently proposed reforms to national water laws. Those proposals, now under discussion in congress, would prioritise human consumption over commercial use and grant the Water Directorate new oversight powers. The private sector is resisting reform, however. The Confederation of Production and Commerce, representing the Chilean private sector, made its opposition clear in a statement (pdf) last month. By declaring water a “public good”, it said, the proposed reforms had “a clear intent on expropriating [private] water rights”. …