Sunday, January 24, 2010

Water in Chile a matter of national security

Daniela Estrada in IPS via Tierramérica: 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.

According to the text, the constitutional reform aims to provide the authorities with the necessary tools so that, "in case it becomes indispensible," they can limit or restrict the exercise of private rights over water and reserve surface or underground waters to ensure availability, primarily for human consumption. As such, Chile is following the path of Ecuador and Uruguay, which constitutionally defined water as a public good in 2008 and 2004, respectively….

The volcanoes Incahuasi (most left) and El Fraile (right beside) behind the Laguna Verde. Shot by Daniel Weiss (Skaifyomonul), Wikmedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

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