CHILE ADVANCES WATER CODE BILL AFFIRMING ACCESS TO WATER AS A HUMAN RIGHT

08/09/2021

On August 4, Chilean lawmakers voted unanimously to overhaul the country’s water code, a leftover from Augusto Pinochet’s 1980s regime. While Chile’s existing water governance regime relies heavily on privatization and market forces to dictate water allocation, the new code promises to take a more progressive view, prioritizing the environment and human consumption (Prensa Latina, Bloomberg).

Prior to last Wednesday’s vote, the reform bill was neglected by the National Congress for nearly a decade. The bill returned to the national agenda in large part because of worsening conditions in the agriculture-dependent country, which has been in a state of severe drought for nearly 10 years. The bill seeks to address a wide swath of issues from the previous water regime, setting up 30-year limits on private water rights, empowering authorities to suspend rights that put water resources at risk and to establish water reserves, and protecting the water supplies of indigenous communities (Reuters, Bloomberg).

The bill will now be sent to Chile’s lower legislative house, the Chamber of Deputies, for final procedural votes. While observers have commended lawmakers’ bold action, many speculate that it may only be the first step in a larger reckoning with water governance. With Chile in the midst of a constitutional convention, observers have noted that the right to water and associated environmental protections may make their way into the country’s new constitution as well (Climate Change News).