The revolution of Chile and the Water Crisis

Thanks to the University of Rome Tor Vergata, in August 2019 I flew across the Atlantic Ocean for my overseas exchange program at the Universidad Mayor of Santiago in Chile and this was the topic of my thesis.

A New Constitution for Chile

On the 26th of October 2020 a plebiscite was held in Chile, and the question was “Do you want a new constitution?”.

This referendum was the result of the 2019 revolution, and it approved the request for a new constitution. It is the first of the century for Chile and, above all, the first since the 1988 referendum which marked the end of the Pinochet dictatorship.

The plebiscite was initially to be held on the 26th of April 2020 but because of the pandemic, it had to be postponed to the 25th of October. The referendum asked whether a new constitution should be drafted and whether it should be drafted by a constitutional convention, made up by members elected especially for it, or by a mixed constitutional convention, made up by a half of members of Parliament and the other half of directly elected citizens. Picture 1: Ballot for the plebiscite

The “Approve” side won with 78% agreeing to draft a new constitution and 79% opted for a “Constitutional Convention”. A second vote will be held on 11 April 2021 to elect the members of the constitutional convention. A third vote is expected to take place no later than August 2022, to accept or reject the draft of the new constitution. The new constitution will replace the one from 1980 still enforced nowadays.

Ballot for the plebiscite

The 2019 revolution of Chile

The 2019 revolution in Chile was sparked by the increase of the metro ticket price in Santiago, the capital, by 0,13 Chilean pesos on the 6th of October 2019. Because of this announcement, hundreds of students evaded the metro (entered without paying) as a way to protest against the price of public transportation.

This movement of metro evasion amplified and grew throughout the following days until confrontations between students and armed forces multiplied. On the night of the 18th of October 2019, protests called “cacerolazos” erupted throughout the whole country, including people from lower, middle and upper classes. This date marks the amplification of the upsurge.

These protests were not without collateral damages, such as looting, public goods destruction, buildings and supermarkets set on fire.
There were 33 deaths during the social outbreak since its beginning on the 18th of October 2019 until its end on February 2020, of which 15 in fires, 7 in confrontations, and 5 with the military. Also, there were 3583 civilians hospitalized, and 2000 military injured at various degrees. A total of 359 eye traumas were recorded during the first six weeks of protests, and many people lost one or both eyes.

The national institute of Human Rights counted 8812 arrested and detained, it also recognized cases of torture on civilians by the armed forces. Many organizations, national and international, recognized the violations of human rights.

25th of October 2019 at plaza Italia

How bad is the water crisis in Chile?

According to the Germanwatch climate risk index, Chile ranked n.16 in 2017, making it one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world.

Chile is a long country on the PacificOcean coast. According to the Koppen climate classification, it hosts at least seven major climatic subtypes ranging from the ice cap tundras in the south, mediterranean in the centre to cold and hot deserts in the north.

The main challenge for Chile is drought, approximately 72% of Chile’s lands have some level of drought in their different categories (mild, moderate, severe). With regard to population, this amounts to approximately 16 million inhabitants, which accounts for 90% of the total population. The region with the largest number of population affected by drought in the “severe” category is the Metropolitan Region of Santiago, with 6.7 million inhabitants, followed by the Region of Valparaiso with 1.7 million inhabitants. Indeed, rain precipitations in 2019 in the region of Santiago were -100% of their average rate and in few areas of the north they went up to +200% as compared with the 1981-2010 one. Climate change has worsened climatic differences between regions.

Overall, the drought is becoming a desertification process of the land, its causes are multiple and complex, among which are climate change, usurpation of water rights for the industrial sectors and profit-driven agricultural trade. As experts know, hydric emergency means agricultural emergency, and in September 2019 the state of agricultural emergency was declared in seven regions of Chile.

When it comes to the water crisis and human rights, Rodrigo Mundaca, a water activist from Modatima, reported that “more than 400.000 families and 1,5 million people see their right to 50 litres of water per day relies on water tanks delivery”. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was impossible for them to meet with the required sanitary standards of the WHO.

Lago Aculeo in 2013 VS 2019

Why is a new constitution necessary for the water governance of Chile?

The water code of Chile was issued back in 1980 with the constitution enforced under the Pinochet dictatorship. It is at the heart of many controversies, political splits and turmoil, systemic injustices, socio-environmental conflicts, protests and so on. Drafting a new constitution means drafting a new water code. It is the greatest hope for Chile to change its approach to water governance and water resources management on a national level. The water code and the Direccion General de Aguas provide two types of right titles to use water: consumptive and non-consumptive, and in the second the water must be returned.

The main failures of the current water code and its legal and administrative frameworks are the delivery and respect of titles to water rights, the water market system, transnational corporations impunity in the market buying the services of local water supply, such as the Italian energy company Enel. Just as much, we get illegal water extractions, ecosystems destruction, pollution of water bodies, failed water governance and unsuited intensive farming for the climate type such as the avocados of Petorca.


Click to access 4833_18_nota_informativa_5_pc_ingles.pdf

Avocados and stolen water


Leave a Reply

Recommended Posts

%d bloggers like this: