Chile: Church groups take lead in water campaign

Carnival to Recuperate Water Rights

Carnival to Recuperate Water Rights

For several years the Columban’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Office in Chile has worked with other religious organisations to review the issue of Water, from an ethical point of view. The Columbans internationally regard water resources as under threat – an element that is a fountain of life, culture and spirituality.

The Columban JPIC Office in Chile was a key leader in the recent Earth Week March and Carnival to Recuperate Water Rights in Santiago on 22 April. More than 100 organisations and 6,000 people participated in the peaceful ten-mile march in a joyful carnival atmosphere. They protested in the Chilean capital to demand that the state regain control of the management of water, which was privatised by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1981. The protest — made up of a coalition of environmentalists, indigenous groups, Chile’s biggest workers’ union and students — demanded an end to private ownership of water and greater environmental protection.

At that time, the state took to itself the right to grant water use rights to companies free of charge and in perpetuity. Today logging companies and mining companies are two of the largest consumers of Chile’s water. Columbans in Chile and their partner organisations are calling for community and public control of the water based on the prioritisation of water for life, human needs and ecosystems.

The demonstrators delivered a letter to President Sebastián Piñera, complaining that the water shortages affecting local communities were due not only to persistent drought but to structural problems in the policies governing the exploitation of natural resources. "We have discovered that there is water in Chile, but that the wall that separates it from us is called 'profit' and was built by the [1981] water code, the constitution, international agreements like the bi-national mining treaty [with Argentina] and, fundamentally, the imposition of a culture where it is seen as normal for the water that falls from the sky to have owners," the letter says. "This wall is drying up our basins, it is devastating the water cycles that have sustained our valleys for centuries, it is sowing death in our territories and it must be torn down now," it adds.

César Correa Valenzuela, the Columban Justice Peace & Integrity Of Creation (JPIC) Co-ordinator in Chile reports: “We have been involved in water scarcity issues with environmental groups in different coalitions and doing a lot of networking and lobbying. This year, all the social, environmental, grass roots organisations and NGOs came together to organise a demonstration against the government policies that privatised the water, and the plea of recovery of it as common good and Human Right.

"We have had a leadership role in all the organisation of the march and the communities, NGOs, and other groups recognise us as one of the main partners in this endeavour. Most of what happened during the “Marcha Carnaval por la recuperacion del agua” (Carnival for the recovery of water) was discussed in fortnight meetings in our Missionary Centre, where people from different parts of Chile, and from a variety of environmental and social justice groups, came to prepare the different aspects of this march.”

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