Avocado Production In Chile Over Human Rights, UN Experts Say

SANTIAGO – United Nations experts warned that avocado production and electricity projects violate international laws on human rights. They said the government must guarantee water supply, especially considering the Covid-19 health emergency. However, Chilean authorities continue to grant water rights to companies and fail to control the illegal use of water.

On the morning of Aug. 20, Leo Heller, UN Special Rapporteur on rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, said avocado and electricity production should not be prioritized over people’s right to health and water access. The expert warned that “industries should address the negative effects of their activities on the ability to  guarantee these rights.”

Heller, alongside seven other UN specialists on fundamental rights, referred specifically to the controversial hydroelectric project Alto Maipo and avocado businesses in Valparaíso. He said the government “does not fulfill its international obligations regarding human rights if they prioritize economic development over citizens’ right to health and water access.”

The experts consider the risk of water shortage is even greater in the context of a pandemic, pointing out that Chile is one of the most affected countries in the world. With over 390,000 Covid-19 cases and almost 11,000 deaths, among an 18.7 million population, Chile is now the ninth country with more cases in the world.

National director of Greenpeace, Matías Asun, said that “for years different organizations such as Modatima (Movement for the Defense of Water, Land, and the Protection of the Environment) and No Alto Maipo have been exposing this situation.” Now that the UN has firmly demanded a solution from the government, “they must ensure water management prioritizes people and ecosystems,” said Asun.

Read more:

How Chile Should Prepare For A Future Without Water

Avocado Production

Chile is one of the major avocado exporters in the world, but its production requires large amounts of water. Due to the extreme drought conditions during the past decades, Chile had to declare a water emergency last year in Petorca, the biggest avocado producer in the country.

Residents of the central area of the country, which holds over half of the country’s avocado production, have been denouncing the increasing lack of water. “Planting avocado trees in a desertic region makes no sense,” said Rodrigo Mundaca, secretary general of Modatima, in an interview with Radio Cooperativa. “Petorca is the national epicenter of violation of the human right to water supply,” he added.

According to the UN declaration, each avocado tree planted in Petorca consumes three times more water than the quantity destined to Chilean citizens. Since 2016, the water supply quota per person has been set at 50 liters, which Heller said to be “insufficient to cover domestic needs during a pandemic.”

In April 2020, the Health Ministry approved a resolution to increase the water quota to 100 liters, but eight days later they revoked the measure. This decision could be considered illegal under international law. However, the government “unimaginably” continues to grant new water rights to agricultural companies and has failed to control the illegal and excessive use of water by avocado companies.

Alto Maipo

The hydroelectric project in the Andes Mountains generates electricity by diverting three main streams of the Maipo River through 67 km of tunnels. “Even though the government has studied the environmental impact, no measures have been taken to guarantee the human right to water access of the population affected by this project,” said Heller.

Alto Maipo is scheduled to start its operations in December, but the UN experts warn the hydroelectric installations will deteriorate the “green corridor” of the Maipo River basin, which has helped improve the air quality in Chile’s capital. They said, “this project may not only reduce the main water source of Santiago residents, but it could also worsen the capital’s air pollution.”

Edited by Claudio Moraga

Also read:

How Chile Should Prepare For A Future Without Water

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