IPS, 23 January 2010 – In its proposed constitutional reform, the Chilean government recognises that the availability of freshwater is a matter of national security. Environmentalists applaud the initiative, but some business groups are worried it will hurt their bottom line.
The paragraph that will be added to Article 19 of Chile’s Constitution, if Parliament approves the bill sent by President Michelle Bachelet on Jan. 7, states that water is a national good for public use, regardless of the state where it is located or the course it follows, including glaciers.
The bill “opens a first step for resolving the crisis of access, contamination, concentration and overexploitation of water in Chile, and the degradation of watersheds,” declared a group of environmental organisations and workers from private sanitation companies.
The initiative made it over the first hurdle Jan. 13 when it was approved by the Chamber of Deputies agricultural committee.
The legal text recognises that freshwater, which is lacking in the Chilean north and abundant in the south, has become a “scarce good” and that its availability is “a matter of national security,” much more than fossil fuels, which can be imported from other countries.
Around the globe, this vital resource is threatened by the effects of climate change, which is causing glaciers to melt as well as more intense droughts.
Chile is a world leader when it comes to freshwater reserves in the form of glaciers. According to the latest inventory by the government’s water agency, there are more than 3,500 glaciers, covering some 20,000 square kilometres.
In March, the Sustainable Chile Programme will publish a book about water conflicts in this country. So far, the group has identified hundreds of disputes between communities and mining, hydroelectric, forestry and agro-industrial companies.
Currently, freshwater is recognised as a national good for public use only legally, not constitutionally. In contrast, the Constitution does give the government control over the nation’s vast mining resources.
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(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)