Boric warns about possible water rationing in Metropolitan Area as drought persists

In view of the persistent drought, Chile’s new president announced that potable water rationing in certain parts of the Metropolitan region might be implemented. The area most at risk of seeing its water rationed is the eastern sector of Santiago. The president believes that leaving the water rights system unregulated will perpetuate existing access inequalities and is no longer a viable option for the future.

In a recent interview with Asociación de Radiodifusires de Chile (ARCHI), President Gabriel Boric said that potable water rationing might have to be considered as a potential solution if the current drought — the worst one ever recorded in Chile — persists. He said that he hopes that “we do not reach rationing anywhere, but if necessary the righteous cannot pay for the sinners.”

He also mentioned that former president Sebastián Piñera warned him about the issue as being “beyond his will” and that he could only guarantee a secure supply of water until the middle of Boric’s second semester. He thus called upon the population of the Metropolitan area and especially those of the eastern sector to make efforts to use water sparingly.

A legacy of access inequality

Inequality in terms of access to water has been a longstanding issue in Chile, as most people in the Metropolitan area enjoy unlimited access to drinkable water at all times, whereas many rural communities are struggling to balance their personal use of water with that which is needed in order to irrigate crops, while also having to compete with big agriculture and forestry companies also operating in the area.

The Pinochet-era water rights system — in which holders of such rights obtained indefinite ownership of resources — has had a long term impact on the way that resources are still distributed today. What was meant to solve a tragedy of the commons has instead created deep inequalities within the country. The agricultural sector currently uses about 70 percent of the country’s water share, but there are strong disparities within the sector itself. Most of the water goes to a handful of large companies that have managed throughout the years to concentrate most of the water rights available thanks to a lack of transparency and market regulation mechanisms.

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Although desalination plants may help with the current issue, they are not sufficient to allow a limitless supply of water to all regions of the country. Chile is definitely not the only country facing such issues, as global warming continues to reduce water supplies worldwide, but it does currently rank 24th on the list of countries at highest risk of experiencing water supply stress by 2040, according to a study conducted by the World Resources Institute. The report also shows that Chile “could face an especially significant increase in water stress by 2040,” meaning that many businesses, farms, and communities may become even more vulnerable to scarcity with the passing of time.

Constitutionalizing the right to water

In his interview, Boric emphasized that what is currently ongoing is “not just a drought, it is also looting.” The right to access water is currently being drafted into the new Constitution, as many members of the Convention are in favor of making it part of the new carta magna. The proposed text would allow the government to temporarily suspend the rights of usage on a threatened watercourse, make registration mandatory, and prevent new rights from being granted indefinitely.

However, according to experts, the text does not necessarily guarantee the proper implementation of provisions designed to combat access inequality. Many state that correct oversight and effective governance systems are essential in regulating water access in order to prevent future conflicts and disparities in the face of climate change.


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